Jeb Loy Nichols Now Then

Missouri-raised, Wales-based Jeb Loy Nichols walks an interesting stylistic tightrope. Over the course of five earlier albums, he has gained respect and a loyal following in roots-y singer-songwriter circles, while pursuing a sound that is far closer to ’70s AM soft pop/rock than alt-country. He keeps exploring that terrain on Now Then — recently given a belated but welcome release here. The album was recorded in Nashville, with Lambchop’s Mark Nevers producing. Muscle Shoals veterans Clayton Ivey and Dan Penn are also featured, and elements of Southern soul can be detected. Nichols’s trump card is his mellow and soulful vocal drawl, one that occasionally evokes the spirit of Bill Withers. The lavish use of strings and softly cooing female backing vocals on such tracks as "Black Water Road” and male/female duet on "Really Together” lean perilously towards schmaltz, but the inherent sincerity of Nichols’s voice comes to the rescue regularly. Some tunes have a melancholy feel, but the overall mood of gentle romanticism would likely make this an effective aural accompaniment for candlelit dinners (and beyond). (Bongo Beat)