Editors' pick

Wilco with Nick Lowe


Editorial Review

Album review: "The Old Magic"

Nick Lowe's new album, "The Old Magic," evokes a peculiar period in American music when Nashville responded to the threat of rock-and-roll by wrapping its singers in urbane strings, vocal groups and keyboards. From 1957 to 1967, the Nashville Sound, as it was called, found the no-man's land between hillbilly and Sinatra, weaving sometimes sappy, sometimes sophisticated tales of troubled marriages.

Lowe, who produced the early British new-wave classics by Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, now resurrects the Nashville Sound at its best.

He doesn't have nearly the voice of a Ray Price or a Marty Robbins, but his preternaturally soothing baritone proves remarkably effective. Better yet, he has written eight songs of marital drama that would have sounded as at home in 1961 as in 2011 (the originals are joined by songs by Costello, Jeff West and Tom T. Hall).

Lowe advises a friend that his old lies won't fool his wife any better than those "Stoplight Roses." As he shows his "House for Sale" to a prospective buyer, he points out every flaw that reflects his broken marriage. "I Read a Lot" is his explanation to his ex of how he's coping with her departure.

Lowe avoids melodrama by keeping the arrangements and vocals understated, as if he were making reluctant admissions rather than eager revelations.

--Geoffrey Himes, Sept. 23, 2011

“Our motto for this tour is ‘Leave ‘em wanting less,’” quipped Wilco executive chef Jeff Tweedy at the Music Center at Strathmore last night. “When you leave here, you’ll be very full.”

He wasn’t kidding. The pacing might have been haphazard, but Tweedy and his five mates served up course after tireless course, a three-dozen-song banquet of art-rock, folk-rock, country-rock, and -- once Nels Cline strapped on that double-necked guitar -- rawk-rock that ran to three hours and excavated tunes from every Wilco album, plus side projects and a gorgeous cover of Big Star’s “Thank You Friends” in memory of Alex Chilton.

The acoustically pristine, not-a-bad-seat-inna-house Strathmore proved an ideal environment in which to savor the group’s musicianship, never sharper than its current six-man lineup. Though Tweedy occasionally lamented (and indulged) the brayed-out song requests, audible throughout the wood-paneled room, the audience - which included White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel - was deferential enough to permit the band a dynamic range impossible in a club or an arena.

The Strathmore is a reverent, not a little churchy kind of place, and revealed sonic details of some performances felt otherworldly in origin: the resigned scrape of Tweedy’s voice on the stunning suite of “Poor Places” and “Reservations,” or Glen Kotche’s storm of percussion on the mournful “Via Chicago.”

Then there was the entire middle act, wherein the band parked itself on the lip of the stage in a ring lit by plain-old floor lamps for a lengthy acoustic set of rarities: “Laminated Cat,” “When the Roses Bloom Again,” “Some Day Some Morning Sometime,” the oldie “Passenger Side.” Wilco in your living room, in effect. The fans didn’t love it when Tweedy started writing about his newly tranquil home life a few years back, but this is one settled-down version of the band we’re lucky to have.

--Chris Klimek, March 31, 2010