Somewhere in London a musician carries the keys to the musical kingdom. In his Technicolor sonic scope are all kinds of sounds, from rock to country to soul to pop. Nothing is off limits, as long as it has a groove and goodness based in reality. The musician has been performing for 40 years, but is as fresh today as the first time he stepped on stage. There are no tricks or short cuts here. Far from it. His songs are as solid as the earth, yet carry no lingering hype or heaviness. The musician is Nick Lowe, the headmaster of British rock, and his new album, At My Age, is such a cause for certain celebration that fans and neophytes alike should mark its June 26 release as a date to remember.
Maybe most interesting of all, At My Age was really an album that almost didn’t happen. “It’s a record that I never really started,” Lowe says. “What normally happens in recent years when I feel like I want to do a record is I get an idea or feeling, along with about three or four new songs, which is a major body of work for me, because I’m not very prolific. When those two things coincide I call everyone up and we go in and record. And if that goes well, those three or four songs will serve as sort of the engine that will drive the writing and recording of the rest of the record. But that process never happened with this one, due to the dramas that have been served up to me in the last five years.”
For Nick Lowe, it’s always been about quality over quantity. In 2001 he released The Convincer, seen by many as one of the highlights of a long and illustrious recording career. After that, though, all went quiet on the studio front. There were scattered dates, a live album and assorted sightings, but no new studio release. That changed this year. Once he got back with his steady team of band mates Bobby Irwin (drums), Geraint Watkins (keyboards) and Steve Donnelly (guitar), there was no stopping them.
Sometimes the biggest gift of all comes when least expected, because as a collection of songs, At My Age has the feel of an all-timer. There are brand new Nick Lowe classics like “A Better Man” and “I Trained Her To Love Me” next to the obscure covers that are a total trademark of the ever-elegant Englishman, like Charlie Feathers’ “The Man In Love” and Faron Young’s “Feel Again.” And, as a special surprise, singer Chrissie Hynde guests on “People Change.” All are done with such supreme style and absolute substance that by album’s end, this is one collection that feels like a long-lost friend, music to bring on the good times and see listeners through the bad.
One constant quality of Nick Lowe is that he knows what he’s doing, and how he wants to do it. “I still love playing with the same guys I’ve been playing with for, well, ages. They’re really great players, and they get me. They can do all kinds of different stuff, and we know what we don’t like. We will work on it a bit, but not labor over it. For me, it’s never like, ‘For the next album I’m going to Peru and find a nose flute.” Never.
With someone like Nick Lowe, who has been such an unending influence on music as a performer, songwriter, producer and all-around proud fan, there is always the question of how he knows when his songs are ready for their public debut. “When I can pick up an acoustic guitar and play the thing through,” he says, “if I can do that and it feels like someone else has written it, or I’m playing a cover song so it doesn’t sound like me anymore, then it’s done. I don’t try to make it anything, because when I try to make it something I can’t stand it. It needs to be as natural as possible, and generally not sound too much like me. It’s an inner gyroscope that lets you know when it’s done.”