Jeb Loy Nichols | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jeb Loy Nichols

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JEB LOY NICHOLS

On the three albums he made with his group Fellow Travellers, Jeb Loy Nichols--a Missouri native who moved to England in 1983--supported his spare, folky pop songs with the fat bass and lean percussion of dub reggae. The unusual pairing gave an intriguing rhythmic elasticity to his often wispy tunes. His solo debut, Lovers Knot (Capitol), adds a mainstream gloss, but fundamentally nothing has changed. The new record was produced by Craig Street, who helped turn Cassandra Wilson into a pop sensation, and it features gospel-blues crooners the Holmes Brothers, organ groover John Medeski, frequent Wilson guitarist Kevin Breit and percussionist Dougie Bowne, and dub bassist Doug Wimbish--a onetime member of the On-U Sound house band, one of Nichols's big influences. Despite all this high-profile help, Nichols's wimpy singer-songwriter proclivities are far more dominant here than with Fellow Travellers: a cloying sweetness often seeps into Nichols's love songs, particularly "Sugar Creek," which sounds like a James Taylor outtake. (This probably accounts for his recent popularity among SUV owners.) But on darker material like "As the Rain," "Dark Hollow," and particularly "Quickly Into Trouble," which sounds like a product of Memphis's Hi Records, the lazy, nasal soul quality of his voice comes to the fore. On his first night in town he opens for former chanteuse Holly Cole, who seems to have mistaken herself for Sheryl Crow. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. Nichols also plays Monday at 6 PM at Joe's, 940 W. Weed; 312-337-3486. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Wilson.

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