Nick Lowe is a chameleon, a former pub rocker turned crooner recently returned as rockabilly/surf-rock genteel grandaddio rock star. After making his mark with iconic songs like “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” “Cruel To Be Kind,” and “I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll” he went country for a while in the 1980s with his band The Cowboy Outfit, then hit crooner status in the ’90s with a string of mellow releases culminating in 2011’s The Old Magic.
But Lowe had grown weary of the music biz and was doubting his career options ’til a Yep Roc anniversary show in 2012 got him together with labelmates Los Straitjackets. The twin guitar leads of luchador-masked guitarists Danny Amis and Eddie Angel blending surf and rockabilly provided a career-changing path for Lowe, who took them along as his backup band on four tours from 2014 to 2018.
Along the way, the masked marauders became collaborators as well, easing smoothly into upbeat, twangy makeovers of Lowe’s old material and providing inspiration and innovation for new tunes on the Straitjackets/Lowe four-song 2018 EP, Tokyo Bay/Cryin’ Inside.
Their latest collaboration, Love Starvation/Trombone, blends Lowe’s crooner and cowboy personas with the Straitjackets’ eclectic surf/rock soundtracks. The title cut has Lowe careening around vocally like in days of old as the Straitjackets hang a loose-fitting Marty Robbins jacket on him, as if Marty had unlaxed a bit and let fly with some clangy rockabilly.
“Blue on Blue” is like the Everly Brothers on acid interpreting a Leonard Cohen tune with Lou Reed guest spotting on the solos.
“Trombone” sounds like Neil Diamond wandering around on a Ennio Morricone soundtrack, a horny spaghetti western that gallops off into the sunset with an Roy Orbison-worthy tonsil-straining outro from Lowe.
Lowe gets back to crooner basics on “Raincoat in the River,” in mellow ’60s soulful throwback Sam Cooke vocal mode with the Straitjackets’ guitars chiming along majestically around him.
Like most every project Lowe’s done over his long and varied career, this one wanders around in a pasture too big for fences, a creature too unpredictable to throw a saddle over and tame, but capable of taking you for the ride of your life if you can just grab a hold as it flies by and hang on.