Los Straitjackets: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets

Los Straitjackets
What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets
(Yep Roc)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s safe to say that after three tours supporting iconic U.K. singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, no other band knows his compositions as intimately as this veteran Nashville-bred quartet. America’s favorite Mexican wrestling masked surf/twang/pop and roots-rocking instrumental combo was encouraged by Lowe himself to totally rethink these 13 songs they cover from his deep catalog on their 16th studio release.

Since Los Straitjackets never played by any rulebook other than the one they wrote, this was a logical assignment. Most of the selections originate from early in Nick Lowe’s solo career, with “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” dating back to Lowe’s short early ’70s stint with U.K. pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz. But the foursome also tackles “Checkout Time” from Lowe’s most recent (2011) studio set which they recreate in a knowingly cheesy, samba style that maintains the melodic lines of the original.

It helps if you are already a Nick Lowe follower but even for those unfamiliar with his recordings, this is a fun frolic that will send you back to the source to see what you missed. From the opening retro surf-rocking of “Shake and Pop” to the heavy rockabilly/twang of Lowe’s power-popping “Heart of the City” and the ready for a soundtrack take on “I Read a Lot,” Los Straitjackets pull out the stops and check off each of the genres they adhere to within the baker’s dozen set. “Cruel to Be Kind,” Lowe’s biggest solo hit, is transformed into a romantic ’60s slow dance and “I Live on a Battlefield” gets the Surfaris/Ventures treatment in a roaring, rollicking performance impossible not to dance to. The group also digs deep into Lowe’s catalog to extract some dusty gems with the reverb-drenched “You Inspire Me” and the mid-tempo strumming “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide.”

Established Lowe and/or Straitjacket fans will lap this up since it not only pays tribute to his often overlooked pop gems, but reinvigorates them in idiosyncratic versions most wouldn’t expect. As a bonus, founding Straitjackets member Danny Amis returns from an illness sabbatical, bringing a third guitar to the mix. And to add more authenticity, it’s produced by Neil Brockbank who has worked with Lowe on his previous six releases. Lowe’s 12-year-old son also makes an appearance on percussion.

Los Straitjackets have always explored new twists on their sound, which included adding various vocalists, recording a full disc of twisting nuggets and covering classic tunes that have influenced them over the decades. This is just one more related side trip in the band’s tenure and, as usual, they rip into it with typical vibrancy, rearranging Lowe’s material so creatively, these sound like Los Straitjackets originals. Imaginative cover art referencing Lowe’s 1978 debut puts the cherry on top of an inspired, lyric free homage to the “Jesus of cool.”

Is it too early to request a follow-up with “I Knew the Bride”?