Nick Lowe's been a lot of things: cofounder of quintessential pub rock band Brinsley Schwartz, ground-level coperpetrator of the Stiff Records punk rock/new wave revolution, producer-at-large for Elvis Costello, the Damned, Pretenders, and John Hiatt (to name a few), roots revisionist in Rockpile with Dave Edmunds, postroots all-star in Little Village with Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner. He's also led a checkered solo career. Long considered a master of the perfect pop song--remember the spritely "Cruel to Be Kind"?--Lowe departs from tradition with his latest effort, his first since getting dropped by Warner Brothers. The Impossible Bird (Upstart) finds the once self-proclaimed "Jesus of Cool" in a somber mood, delivering a song cycle about a dying relationship: not necessarily very original turf, but Lowe's specialty has always been reinvention. Rather than fine-tune a collection of high-gloss gems, he presents his music as something immediate and genuine, and the stripped-down musical approach complements his dark lyrics. But don't go thinking that he's become Nick Drake; his originals still course with killer hooks and familiar turns of phrase, but in contrast to his previous fork-tongued smugness he's positioned himself as a vulnerable fellow shuffling between self-empowering determination on "12-Step Program (To Quit You Babe)," painful pleading on "Lover Don't Go," and ruminative remorse on "Withered on the Vine." It's a superb album, not so much for its splendor but in its restrained honesty. This could be the real Nick Lowe. Excellent country-revisionist, soul-singing popster Jim Lauderdale opens. Friday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Andrew Crowley.

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