LOS STRAITJACKETS/What’s So Funny… review!

     A few years back, it wasn’t a shock to see that British  singer/songwriter Nick Lowe would be touring with American instrumental Rock  combo Los Straitjackets.  Both Nick and  the ‘Jackets occupy the same musical universe although they are on opposite  ends of the galaxy.

     In his early days as a solo artist in the late ‘70s, Nick  unraveled little patches of Rock’s rich tapestry and restitched them into something new and dynamic.  His songs were – and are – fresh and exciting although he never hid his influences.  From the dawning of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the ‘50s straight through the ‘60s (Beatles, Motown, etc.) and right up to the infancy of Punk, Nick incorporated it all into his music. In fact, he left no stone unturned when it came to inspiration.  By the ‘90s, Nick no longer played the music industry game and started turning out albums that brought Rock, Pop, Country, and folk together with a fresh new twist. Since 1994, he has released a succession of albums that are true marvels to behold. His original material now sounds so honest, so pure and so heartfelt that they seem as if they’ve always existed. The melodies are so familiar and warm that they feel natural. In all actuality, his songwriting has improved over the years. Not the Power Pop/New Wave guy of old, his songs no longer bash you over the head – they take a few listens to sink in and then you can’t live without them.  His early catalog (soon to be reissued by Yep Roc) may be what he’s best known for but his later work is just as vital.
     Los Straitjackets, on the other hand, take those same  influences that fueled Nick and turn them into something entirely different. Like so many great instrumental Rock combos, Los Straitjackets has forged their own musical identity by keeping things fresh. Most of their albums have been instrumental but they have collaborated with vocalists over the years including Big Sandy, Kaiser George (of The Kaisers), Deke Dickerson and others. Some might assume that the band’s format may grow tiresome after a while but, to their credit, Lost Straitjackets have always kept things interesting. Some tracks feature guitars drenched in reverb while others have clear, warm tones that ‘feel’ more personable and personal. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about Los Straitjackets is that you never know what they are going to do next. They’ve never gone the Ventures route and released different variations on the same theme over the course of their career. So, when Nick Lowe set out on a mini tour with the ‘Jackets, it all made perfect sense.  The ‘Jackets treat their material (both original and covers) with loving care so they were a perfect fit for Nick’s large cache of material.

     While it may not be a studio collaboration between the two acts, Los Straitjackets have followed up the Lowe live shows with an wonderfully warm stroll through Nick Lowe’s songbook on WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT  PEACE, LOVE AND LOS STRAITJACKETS. Yes, they’ve managed to pick some Nick Lowe gems from his back catalog and give them a fresh new coat of paint. And this release does NOT disappoint!

      Kicking the set off with “Shake & Pop” (AKA “They Called It Rock”), the ‘Jackets come out  blazing. It may not be an all-out sonic battle but it sure is fun. The jaunty “All Men Are Liars” is superb and one of the best tracks on the album. “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” one of Lowe’s latter period songs, receives a remarkably lovely interpretation without being sappy. “You Inspire Me” becomes a late-night romantic lounge number. “Rollers Show” is a surprise entry and is a laid-back yet rollicking good time.  “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” is simply lovely, recalling some of Glen Campbell’s guitar solos from his hit making period of the mid to late ‘60s. “I Read A Lot” is another later Lowe gem that receives a warm and touching approach by the ‘Jackets “Half A Boy And Half A Man” retains the fun Tex Mex feel of Lowe’s original.  “Checkout Time” sounds like a trip through an Exotica bar. “I Live On A Battlefield” is great fun and just as invigorating as Lowe’s original (and Paul Carrack’s cover). “Raging Eyes” is transformed into a gentle Buddy Holly-ish groover (dig those ‘Peggy Sue’-like drums!). “Cruel To Be Kind” is reimagined as a roller-rink/sock hop slow dance number. “Heart Of The City” becomes an instant surf classic.  And…. Oh, damn. It’s over.

Time to press PLAY again.

     You should actually run out and buy this on whatever format you can get your hands on.  It is quite wonderful to be honest.  Pop fans know that Nick Lowe is one of our generation’s greatest songwriters and Los Straitjackets are here to prove it by presenting the man’s melodies in their purest form.
Keep on truckin’

Stephen SPAZ Schnee