Friday, August 19, 2011

Music Library: Nick Lowe, Nicky Hopkins, Nico, Nina Nastasia, Nina Simone

Nick Lowe - Jesus of Cool (1978), "Let's Eat," Labour of Lust (1979), Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Sing The Everly Brothers EP (1980), Nick The Knife (1982), Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (1984), "I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll," Party of One (1990), The Impossible Bird (1994), Dig My Mood (1998), The Convincer (2001), Untouched Takeaway (2004), At My Age (2007), and Quiet Please: The New Best Of Nick Lowe (2009).  It seems there should be a genre name for the type of songs that Nick Lowe writes, even though it's clear that, at least in the early days, he's working against multiple genre conventions.  They're all somewhere between country and pop, deeply informed by the protopunk-ish pub rock of the 70s, but still hard to shoehorn in any subgenre other than just plain rock.  What Lowe does is craft extraordinary songs, built around a central conceit that is generally simple and rich at the same time.  As much as I like the younger, more rockin' Lowe, I really love the older, more mature songwriter that he grew into around 1990 with Party of One. That and every album after is a near-perfect collection of songs.

Nicky Hopkins - The Tin Man Was A Dreamer (1973).  Hopkins was a session musician for many classic rock tracks, especially with the Stones. Considering how talented he was as a sideman, I hoped that  this would be an excellent album, but unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed in two listens.  Perhaps I'll change my mind over time.

Nico - Chelsea Girl (1967) and The Marble Index (1969). She may not be much of a singer, but these chamber pop pieces are gorgeous and powerful.  She wrote very little on the first and almost all of the second, but they seem of a piece.  Consider how instrumental Jackson Browne was for the first album (even writing the amazing track "These Days," which is my favorite Nico song). I can't believe I'm complimenting Jackson Browne, but there you go.

Nina Nastasia - Dogs (2000), The Blackened Air (2002), Run To Ruin (2003), On Leaving (2006), You Follow Me (with Jim White, 2007), and Outlaster (2010). Nastasia is possibly my favorite underappreciated songwriters currently working. These songs tend to come across as folk revival tracks at first, but Nastasia is an odd bird of an artist.  Her tracks veer off into odd tangents, chasing the emotion far beyond the bounds of traditional songcraft.  With only six albums to her name, it seems unfair to say that three are my favorites, but it is true.  The Blackened Air is a horror story masquerading as folk music, as if Flannery O'Connor and Shirley Jackson were collaborating on songs.  You Follow Me features stunning interplay between Nastasia and Dirty Three drummer Jim White, who makes the most of Nastasia's lovely, unsettling songs. Outlaster is a heartbreaker with Nastasia's trademark near-perfect songs.  Only "You're A Holy Man" stands out as a less-than-great track, and I'm even on the fence about that one. Seems appropriate that she should come up in a post that also includes Nick Lowe and Nico.

Nina Simone - Little Girl Blue (1958), Verve Jazz Masters 17 (1958-1967), Wild Is The Wind (1966), The Essential Nina Simone Vol. I (1967-1973), and The Essential Nina Simone Vol. II (1967-1971).  A singer of neither pure jazz nor R&B, Simone was extraordinary for her ability to combine many different styles into something uniquely her own.  Her deep, sometimes-brassy, sometimes-bassoony voice is like no other.  I'm not crazy about all of the rock covers on the last two albums, neither of which seems all that essential, but there's enough pleasure to justify them, anyway.


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