Labour Of Love
The Music of Nick Lowe
As the liner notes quickly point out, Nick Lowe has never quite received the recognition he deserves, nor has he been the type to actively seek it out. Lowe has been content to pen pop gems (both for himself and acts like Elvis Costello) and produce a wide variety of other worthy artists, without aspiring to play arenas or view his albums rocketing up the charts. And while he hasn’t had a whole lot of fame and success (at least not lately), he has managed to directly influence a staggering number of artists with his sincere style, clever hooks, and wry sense of humor.
Which brings us to this tribute. A baker’s dozen of Lowe songs, some performed by artists Lowe has musically midwifed (Costello, Marshall Crenshaw, Graham Parker), and others by some unexpected guests — Sleepy LaBeef, Charlie Musselwhite, Tom Petty. Unlike most tribute albums, which delegate songs wholesale to the worshipping bands, Labour Of Love uses a “house band” consisting of G.E. Smith, T-Bone Wolk (guitar, bass; they formed the backbone of the Saturday Night Live band for years), and Steve Holley (drums; Elton John, Wings) behind the leading musicians, with only a couple of exceptions. The result is an unusual consistency of sound — mixed with the unique character of Lowe’s songs, the evenness of songwriting and performance highlight the unique talents of each artist.
High points here include Sleepy LaBeef and C.J. Chenier’s zydeco take on “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and Marshall Crenshaw’s “Cruel To Be Kind,” but really, there is not a track here that isn’t worth hearing, either in its original Lowe form or in its loving interpretation. Charlie Musselwhite’s sparse and arid “Faithless Lover” is eerie in its desolation, and Andrea Re gives “When I Write the Book” a very nice and soulful kick. “Cracking Up,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, dates from 1985. Elvis Costello’s closing “Egypt” is a golden moment, clearly showing the affinity between Lowe and his protégé.
Labour Of Love is probably of greatest interest to Lowe fanatics; it’s no dramatic reinterpretation, and those seeking thrills and excitement may be put off by the fact that these are overall pretty straightforward renditions of the songs, often given only as much individual personality as each artist’s voice brings to the table. Still, the songs speak for themselves, timeless compositions that reveal Lowe’s sardonic grin at any performer’s hands.