He knew the bride when she used to rock and roll. Back in the day, pub rocker-turned-crooner Nick Lowe put out some of the best rockabilly-tinged, jump-up-and-down drinking music on the planet. “Bride,” which showed up in 1977 on fellow Rockpile singer/guitarist Dave Edmonds’ solo release, Get It, is a raucous, rattly ode to never growing old and going for your dream even when somebody else has a-hold of it. Lowe still inspires grey hairs in the audience to do a somewhat arthritic but still spirited version of the pogo whenever he performs it live.
But Lowe didn’t want to be known solely for his youthful musical exploits. After a brief fling with country — he produced then-wife Carlene Carter’s country album Musical Shapes in 1980 and put out a couple of Tex-Mex, Bakersfield, and rockabilly-blended albums of his own — Lowe settled into crooner mode in the ’90s and has yet to come out.
That’s no mean feat when your backing band is Los Straitjackets, a wrestling-mask-clad surf rock/ rockabilly aggregation with subtlety not in their vocabulary. But since they met in 2012 at a Yep Roc party, the twin guitar leads of Danny Amis (since replaced by Greg Townson) and Eddie Angel have fit Lowe like a bespoke suit.
His latest EP, Lay It On Me, is more of the velvety Lowe the now silver-haired crooner espouses. But that doesn’t mean that the band can’t get its twang on. “Don’t Be Nice to Me” wobbles between spaghetti western soundtrack and Ventures surf party, with Lowe’s vocal invoking memories of British invasion pop idol Freddie and the Dreamers.
“Lay It On Me Baby” has a ’60s pop feel as well, once again bringing back memories of the British invasion, with a Beatlemania-era “yeah yeah yeah” shout-out embedded in a Herman and the Hermits framework with a more muscular guitar backing. It’s a cross-chart hopper that could have also found a slot on the country charts of that era.
“Here Comes That Feeling” is the snappiest cut that Lowe sings on, soft-core rockabilly that has Eddie Angel’s guitar riffs trying to jump the fence and gallop off into the sunset, Lowe’s soulful delivery barely restraining them.
The Straitjackets shrug off their restraints in their cover of the Dutch band Shocking Blue’s 1969 psychedelic hit “Venus,” also covered by Bananarama in 1986. The Straitjackets twang it up a few notches and march it along stiffly, giving it a significant bassline punch courtesy of Pete Curry before it degenerates briefly into a spaghetti western opera and then whammy bars to a quivery finish.
Crooner Lowe can still rock and roll, perhaps a little grayer, but still shakin’, rattlin’, and rollin’ when the spirit moves him.