Reviewed by Angus Cargill.
‘All aboard, all aboard…’
With these words, a warm hug of a voice beckons you in to The Jeb Loy Nichols Special, an album for any doubting-Thomas out there who thinks it’s a dying form in the so called digital age.
So who is Jeb Loy Nichols? A musician or Artist? American or Welshman? Country picker or a Soul Man? Folkie or Jazz singer?
Well, the best answer seems to be a bit of all of the above, but this album (for me) nods most clearly to the two great Country Got Soul collections he curated for Casual in the early 2000s. Whether it’s the revue style intro mentioned above, the artists he covers (George Jackson, Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Donnie Fritts, Larry Jon Wilson), or just the general laid back, live-feeling (at least) sound (drums, strings, organ fills, acoustic guitar, horns), what follows is a masterclass in country-soul: seven original tracks and five covers mixed with such skill and intuitive feel that it sounds like a lost classic.
Standouts, for me, are the superb cover of Haggard’s ‘Going Where the Lonely Go’ (which made me wish that Amy Winehouse could have done a version too), the almost Nick Drake sounding folk stylings of ‘Nothing and No One’, the Curtis-like social commentary of ‘Hard Times’, and the superbly titled ‘Countrymusicdisco45’. The last of these has one of the most blatant riff steals of all time (you’ve got to hear it for yourself), but it’s one which he brilliantly places at the heart of a crossing boundaries, manifesto-style lyric of how we all should dance (I think). It’s one of the coolest songs I’ve heard in years, genuinely, and I can’t wait to hear it played live or over a decent sound system.
But The Jeb Loy Nichols Special is, above all, one of those great albums which, with a natural rhythm and pacing to it, just seems to make sense. There will be more hyped records this year, but I doubt there will be many that sound as sustained and quietly confident as this (and, as an end note and if there are any left, go for the Rough Trade edition which includes Jeb’s nicely compiled mix of classic Stax songs – from William Bell, Melvin van Peebles, Booker T and the MGs, The Staples Singers and others).
The Jeb Loy Nichols Special is out now on Decca. CDs are on sale from the Caught by the River shop, priced £10