Jeb Loy Nichols
Ya Smell Me?
, January 18th, 2016 15:45
When I first Google searched Jeb Loy Nichols after first hearing his warm, soulful timbre and yankee drawl, what I wasn't expecting was a Harry Dean Stanton lookalike who resides on the Welsh borders and whiles away his days making DIY music, painting and writing fiction. Jeb Loy Nichols is a journeyman in every sense of the word, a nomadic cult musician making music on the peripheries. And that's no bad thing.
His backstory is an interesting one: Nichols is one of those contradictory mavericks who grew up in Missouri and settled in Wales by way of New York, Texas, and a flatshare in London with Neneh Cherry and Ari Up during the 80s. His career has been long and undistinguished, but with many surprising twist and turns. During the 90s he was signed to Capitol and contributed to the soundtrack of Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting with the brassy and sassy country soul number 'As The Rain'. His refusal to tour at the time soon rendered him out of contract. A contradictory bugger, he has no such qualms about playing live these days, having performed at Hackney's most terrifying pub - The Jackdaw and Stump - in December.
Along the way he has led a life less ordinary, making fine music with a tapestry of influences,from Merle Haggard to the The Faces. A song like 'Cruel Winter', an elegiac ballad with sombre string flourishes from 2009, sounds nothing like either of these though. His first love and his most recognisable contribution to the world is reggae, but Ya Smell Me? finds him playing DIY funk that wouldn't have sounded out of place during the British funk soul explosion of 1981. It's difficult to lay a glove on him, genre wise, which is perhaps why he remains under the radar, and maybe that's the way he likes it.
First up is 'Regret'. The lyric is quite simple, there are only three things Jeb regrets: "There's everything I've done / Everything I'm doing / And what I haven't done yet". It's the kind of confessional you expect sat in a cold church hall listening to an addict offload his demons. It carries on, like step 9 from the Big Book, or My Name Is Earl: “there are people in the world I need to talk to / I need to confess / I've made a mess”. It's an intrepid tune, with some nice trumpeting to carry it along. 'My Mistake' is another mea culpa set over a groove that is reminiscent of Minnie Ripperton. Third track, 'That's How We're Living', has a hip hop breakbeat that clatters along alacritously as Nichols croons about penury while pulling off his best Leroy Hutson impression.
The second side of this mini-album finds the singer suffering the country blues still, with 'Pretty Lonesome' a fairly self-explanatory tune about yearning. The best tracks are saved for last, with 'Seven Days In December' and 'Wintering Of The Year'. The former has a delightful peripatetic bass, rimshot percussion and sympathetic brass, a winter ballad that would work on a breezy summer day too, while the latter waltzes along with tipsy swinging jazz accompaniment that lasts long in the memory. It's not a record that's likely to set the world alight, but those who come into contact with Ya Smell Me? will find plenty to find agreeable.