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If Paul McCartney had written "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" when he really was 64, rather than 24, it might have sounded something like Nick Lowe's "The Club." There's no oom-pah-pah to this tune, just a friendly gin-drinker's voice and a few melancholy words: "This club's not for the happy types / Got up in pinks and yellows / It's for all the lost and lonely brokenhearted fellows." By the end, a mariachi band wanders by the barstool in question, bleating horns as the singer "whoa-ohs" into the distance.

Throughout his first studio album in six years the 58-year-old singer-songwriter behind Elvis Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and solo pub-rock classics like "Cruel to Be Kind" maintains the precise mood of "The Club." Sometimes he speeds up, as on Charlie Feathers's rockabilly gem "The Man in Love," which has the swinging, near-goofy feel of Lowe's underrated 1990 rock CD "Party of One." And sometimes he slows way, way down, as on "Love's Got a Lot to Answer For," which opens with just a few desolate piano notes, guitar chords and horns.

But Lowe never veers away from love songs, viewed through his unique lens of humor and regret. "Long Limbed Girl" shows a man rediscovering an old photo of a beautiful woman with her arms around him. The find leads to a series of simple but devastating questions: What happened after me? Did you find love eventually?

"In my mind, forever young," Lowe concludes, and he sings in that spirit for 33 minutes on "At My Age."

-- Steve Knopper

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Long Limbed Girl," "The Man i n Love," "Rome Wasn't Built i n a Day"

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