Since Impossible Ark Records started, not only have they shown a flair for modern jazz, they’ve also been very adventurous but no more so that with the strange faith and practice of Jeb Loy Nichols.
Produced by Benedic Lamdin and Riaan Vosloo, the release of Strange Faith and Practice sees a departure from the usual as this album is less about jazz and more about Wyoming-born Jeb Loy Nichols as a singer-songwriter.
And its also an about turn for Nichols himself as previously he’s mixed country with soul and reggae. On the 13 track Strange Faith And Practice, we get a beautiful collection of “drifting” downtempo jazz that’s mostly backed by a string quartet of Robin Martin, Roz Gladstone (both of whom were on the Lamdin/Vosloo produced Lizzy Parks albums This And That/Raise The Roof), Roz Gladstone and Anna Slami.
The jazz is supplied by the ‘usual suspects’ of Impossible Ark; Riaan Vosloo (bass and arrangements), Tim Giles (drums), Ross Stanley (Piano), , Fulvio Sigurta (Trumpet), the saxophones of Jonny Spall and Mark Hanslip and Jennifer Carr (keyboards).
That makes it sound like quite a big band sound but it’s nothing like that. It’s very understated, think of a jazzed up Fink or a alt.country Jamie Cullen and you might get close to the vibe. And even if there’s more of a easy listening beat that you’d expect Radio 2 to be all over, Mr. Nichols brings to the CD many elements as illustrated by an illustrious past that has included being the art director for Adrian Sherwood’s Pressure Sound, guest vocalist for Groove Armada and compiler of Casual Records’ brilliant Country Got Soul series (Charlie Gillet was a big fan and we’re forever grateful for introducing us to the brilliant Dan Penn).
The best track of the set is the title track as it’s the most jazzy of the lot. The opener ‘Sometime Somewhere Somebody’ is a big grower as features the haunting horn of Sigurta’s who was so good on the Examples of Twelves albums. Another is ‘The Day That Never Came’ features some of Nichols better lyrics to some back bar room piano and wobble slide guitar before Sigurta blows the dust of the porch.
Even so, there is a bit of health warning that comes with the CD; whilst it’s very addictive, ‘Lake Whitfield’ hints at the problem with a mention of ‘Blanket on the ground’ but as a track, is retrieved by the piano, big string arrangement as the mellow sax. But you can’t ignore it, there is a bit of a horror with the one track called ‘Probably Never Stop’ that’s really quite Tammy Wynette as it’d even get Hank Wankford crying in his beer.
But that’s the only one to worry about as the oft sombre lyrics (‘If I Can Come Home With You’, ‘Cruel Winter’, ‘Home Wasn’t Built In A Day’) begin to get to you on repeated listens as the jazz is the right side of the blues and the strings will tug at your heart; I defy you not to be touched by ‘Next Time’.
Those with long memories will recall the once mighty Lyle Lovett went through a period of jazzin’ up his country rock sound and I remember seeing him at a sold out Dominion many years ago and thinking then, what he really needed was a proper jazz band. Jeb Loy Nichols’ has clearly been thinking somewhere along the same lines as Strange Faith And Practice is a proper relaxed blue-eyed album; be prepared to be impressed.
Reviewed: Jeb Loy Nichols – Strange Faith And Practice (Impossible Ark Records) Cat. No: UNFOLDCD008 Release date: 7th September 2009
1 Sometime Somewhere Somebody (2:59)
2 Lake Whitfield (4:14)
3 The Day That Never Came (4:11)
4 Can’t Stay Here (4:40)
5 This Morning (3:11)
6 Probably Never Stop (3:06)
7 Interlude One (2:03)
8 Strange Faith And Practice (4:37)
9 If I Can Come Home With You (4:42)
10 Interlude Two (3:15)
11 Cruel Winter (2:39)
12 Home Wasn’t Built In A Day (5:44)
13 Next Time (3:44)