Album reviews 

Lowe Rise

At My Age
Nick Lowe
(Yep Roc)
Among many other things, Nick Lowe is a masterful thief. You’re reminded of this only a few seconds into Lowe’s new album, At My Age, when he pickpockets the melody from Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” for “A Better Man.”

Lowe has a long history of this sort of thing. Remember how he appropriated (how’s that for a polite euphemism?) Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” for “So It Goes” or borrowed Creedence’s unmistakable “Green River” riff for “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Shine”? He’s the chatty stranger at the bar who steals your wallet and makes you grateful when he buys you a round.

Lowe gets away with it because he’s not simply a scoundrel, he’s a a self-deprecating, self-aware, witty scoundrel. Because there’s always an undercurrent of mischief to even his most sincere moments, he’s been able to age into a sensitive balladeer without turning into a mushy codger.

At My Age settles comfortably into the sound that Lowe first embraced with 1994’s The Impossible Bird, his breakthrough move into musical adulthood. It’s a muted mix of sophisticated country and jazzy torch songs, not far from the territory Patsy Cline explored on her best records. “The Club” is a twangy Nashville pastiche that finds Lowe inviting listeners to join him in a club for the disaffected and alienated. “Hope For Us All” finds Lowe in familiar mode, as the redeemed, reformed old guy, taking a musical page from Burt Bacharach’s little red book and throwing in the three-note hook from “Spanish Harlem” just for the hell of it.

While the cynical, cruel narrator of “I Trained Her to Love Me” has gathered the most critical attention (here, as always, Lowe’s casual charm can be dangerously effective at making a cad seem agreeable), the most telling cut is “People Change.” The song’s get-with-the-program message, spelled out in the title, is simple to the point of triteness. But it’s also true, and at his age, that’s what matters most to Lowe.

— Gilbert Garcia


Zen Budos

The Budos Band II
The Budos Band
(Daptone Records)

Short for Los Barbudos or “The Bearded Ones,” The Budos Band fuses insatiable Afro-beat rhythms, raw funk stylings, and tasty Latin percussion into a pure representation of Staten Island soul.

The original members met years ago in an after-school jazz ensemble, and soon found themselves on late-night ferry rides to Manhattan to hear veteran funk bands Antibalas, the Sugarman Three, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Now 11 members strong, the musicians share the Daptone roster with the very same artists they admired.

On its self-titled first album, the group launched a sonic expedition into dense African jungles. With its second effort, Budos journeys north to the Sahara Desert, telling the story of a rather unfortunate traveler.

The sun beats down intensely upon the golden sand, while heatstroke begins to set in (“Budos Rising”). Delirious, the man stumbles across an oasis (“Mas O Menos”) only to find it doesn’t exist (“Adeniji”). Trudging on, he encounters a deadly “King Cobra” stalking its prey. The burning sun now begins to set and darkness covers the land, drawing out the desert’s nocturnal hunters (“Origin of Man”). Unable to see, he stumbles across “The Scorpion,” which strikes with intense fury and pinpoint accuracy. Intoxicated, the man drifts off into eternal sleep, becoming buried “Deep in the Sand.”

The group also tips its collective hat to Motown backing band the Funk Brothers and songwriter Smokey Robinson with “His Girl,” an interpretation of The Temptations’ hit “My Girl.”

The album’s standout track, “Chicago Falcon,” blends the classic Budos tone, congas, and tight crescendos into an addictive dance groove.

All in all, Budos Band II is a perfect follow-up to the group’s debut release. Featuring enticing rhythms and quality musicianship, it proves the band can hold their own in the contemporary soul jazz/funk scene.

— Stephen Keller

American Britt

Country Music’s Yodeling Cowboy Crooner Vol. 2
Elton Britt

Yodeling tends to leave a bad taste in the modern music consumer’s mouth. Much like the polka accordion or the bellows from the opera’s fat lady, yodeling is seen as a novelty and like grandma’s fruit salad, is disregarded before it is even considered.  Yodeling rarely makes it past the stereotype of a buxom, braided, Swiss maiden, grabbing a stein and caterwauling in the Alps, or the classic cowboy serials, with heroes out on the range ending every night with the call of “yippi ki-yay, get along little dogies.” But yodeling is no different than any other musical form, broken down into categories and sub-categories, developing in different locales from unique styles.

In the early 20th century, Elton Britt made the attempt to renovate yodeling, and in doing so, brought it to a commercial peak. On Country Music’s Yodeling Cowboy Crooner Vol. 2, 28 of Britt’s recordings have been re-released from his 50-plus album catalog, most notably from the RCA-Victor label.

A definitive yodeling crooner, Britt was the country equivalent of Paul Anka or Vic Damone, with a smooth voice capable of higher notes than the honest sound of the working-man’s yodel from Jimmie Rodgers.

Born in Arkansas, Britt rose to fame in the early ’40s after a successful stint with The Beverly Hillbillies (no relation to the television show). After going solo, Britt became the first country-music singer to score a million-seller with the WWII propaganda hit “There’s A Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere.”  Vol. 2 includes Britt chart-toppers such as “Someday (You’ll Want me to Want You)” “Driftwood on the River,” and the country standard “Born To Lose.”  Tracks such as the Hawaiian classic “Sweet Leilani” and the weeper “Maybe I Was Wrong” display Britt’s vocal ability and heartfelt delivery.

All in all, Britt’s collection offers a welcome reminder that yodeling is not only a genuine art form but has roots that go back farther than Jewel.

— Ryan Markmann




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