Nick Lowe and heavy friends bring it at Damrosch Park and Rock NYC’s Iman Lababedi brings us his review
By Iman Lababedi
Veteran Philly rock Charlie Gracie fronting Sleepy Labeef’s band Saturday night introduces a new song “I’m Alright” as a tribute to his late friend Eddie Cochran. Cochran? Gracie was friends with the rockabilly legend, “Summertime Blues”, ” “Something Else” , “20 Flight Rock” guy, who died at the age of 21 in 1960. Yeah, that one. And Gracie, no slouch in the guitar heroes sweepstakes himself, gives a strummy smart take on the Cochran soundalike song.
At 77 years of age, and with a head of white hair, the years seem not to have effected his voice or his playing, his 20 minute set, as part of Sleepy LaBeef’s Rockin’ Rockabilly Revue, would be fabulous by any definition. But to watch someone who was friends with the heroic Eddie Cochran is just magical? One degree of separation!
There is no degrees of separation between Jahn Xavier and myself, Jahn joined me Saturday night at the Lincoln Center Out Of Doors “American Festival”. Jahn’s new album, Yes, You, is a superb effort, one of the best of the year: a rock and soul with shocking and powerful undercurrents electrifying you just below the surface, and I thought it might be fun to interview him while watching top of the bill Nick Lowe. Jahn’s old band The Nitecaps had been signed to Jake Riviera’s “Radar Record” and Jahn knew Nick.
It almost immediately paid dividends. ” The pianist? that’s my friend Dave Keyes, he played on the original recording of “Walk The Other Way’”. The evening would continue along much the same way, David Fricke, sitting behind us, received a copy of the new album, Monica Passin of Lil Mo and the Monicats show drops by to say hello. If you don’t know her, try her simply gorgeous take on George Jone’s country “Hearts In My Dreams” -a perfect song. But unfortunately, while a good idea in theory, it will take another meeting with Jahn to finish off the interview because there is too much music going on.
Everything about the evening was musical magic but, as Popdose’s Ken Shane would note of the Newport Festival last week, the show belongs to Jason Isbell. Everything Jahn and I heard was superb on Saturday night, but Jason was something else entirely. His 12th year in the business and the clean and sober Mr. Isbell, with his wife Amanda Shire on violin, is on a tour that will define his gift for years to come. The last song of his night “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” made me think of Gram Parsons and that sort extreme fineness, lyrically and musically , but the former Drive-By Trucker, owes little to anybody. Isbell, playing mostly songs off Here We Rest and the new Southeastern, defines himself as a man singing about his home State Alabama, or at least the way he sees his home.
“Cover Me Up”, “Decoration Day”, “Alabama Pines”. Jahn points out that the drummer, Chad Gamble, is using four toms toms “To give the songs a deeper sound, more bottom”. The second guitarist, a new guy who looks around twelve years of age, plays a fine steel guitar. Violinist Amanda plays “Bulletproof” off her new album but she should have performed the superior “Look Like A Bird”. Jahn, who had never heard Jason before added “You can tell when someone means it, Jason means it”. He does indeed -with Nick Lowe and James Burton playing just about perfect sets, Isbell bested them.
The evening began with Mr. Taking Care Of Business, Master Of The Telecaster James Burton. I saw him play with Jerry Lee Lewis at a concert I consider one of the best I’ve ever seen, and the next time I saw Jerry Lee, Burton wasn’t there because he was at John Denver -who he used to be musical director- funeral. Burton has lost nothing at all, opening with Sleepy’s biggest hit “Tore Up” and “Suzie Q” -schooling Fogerty while he’s at it, a Jack Clements tribute was followed by a Presley medley: “Mystery Train”, Blue Moon” “Good Rocking Tonight”.
Over way too soon but the other rockabilly septuagenarians made up for the loss, Johnny Powers (“Long Blond Hair”), and Texas Rockabilly Hall of Famer Gene Summers (“Alabama Shake”) were both just excellent. Jahn points to the back of a fan’s tee “Everything louder than every thing else”, he notes. “That was what we said while recording the album”
At 8:30pm, Nick Lowe, with white hair, glasses, a yellow shirt, looking dapper and charming in a Cary Grant in “Charade” sort of way, proceeded to perform a perfect solo set. Though he played his three biggest hits crowded at the end, he did add two Rockpile track and the performance was concise and lovely, the songs were first class -every last one of them. And Lowe is a droll, charming and extremely pleasant companion.
Jahn knows his Lowe very, very well, and adds harmonies to Lowe’s take on his old Rockpile track “When I Write The Book” . If you wanna talk about a great experience, listening to Jahn and Lowe was a great experience (I wish I had taped it).
Lowe’s post Party Of One, has been fine, tasteful, clever country songs and he played them tonight “Where’s My Everything”, “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”. A new song off his upcoming Christmas album “A Dollar Shy Of Happy” proves the man is just fine at 64 years old, nothing is lost. Elsewhere, Lowe played the cad of “I Trained Her To Love Me” with a twinkle in his eye and a sneer on his lips, it was very funny and very fun and the evening highlight was “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” off The Convincer. Easily the best song on the 2001 (2001???) album, it worked perfectly this night. The run on sentences at the last verse sound like so much fun to sing!
“Cruel To Be Kind”, a cover of Cliff Richard’s “Travellin” Light” ”I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll)” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” take us home.
Jahn, though he is stuck finishing off the interview later this week, left with a smile on his face. Me? I will never forget the night Nick Lowe and Xavier serenaded me…
(Iman Lababedi is editor-at-large with Rock NYC. For more insightful Big Apple music coverage visit rocknycliveandrecorded.)