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You've only to hear Walter Clevenger's bright power pop to know that he's a Nick Lowe fan. And if you've been hearing less of Costa Mesan Clevenger and his Dairy Kings of late, that's also evidence of how much of a Lowe fan he is. For the past year and a half, his own career has been sidelined while he produced, recorded and released an ambitious tribute CD: Lowe Profile, out now on his Brewery Records label.
And with that out of the way, you can expect to see more of the Dairy Kings on county stages, including a gig this Saturday at Fitzgeralds in Huntington Beach, though we should note that it's a Nick Lowe tribute show.
Why this obsession with the Jesus of Cool?
"Nick Lowe's been a huge influence on my music ever since I first heard him," Clevenger said. "Several years ago I heard about a tribute album that was in the works [2001's Labour of Love on the Telarc label]. I tried to get on it, but the album was already in the can. I was even more disappointed when I heard it. To me, it lacked the whole Nick Lowe spirit—his wit and wry humor, the energy of his music."
Come 2005, Clevenger was looking for a way to highlight the fact that his little label is now releasing CDs by artists other than the Dairy Kings, and thought he might as well release a Lowe tribute album he'd want to listen to. He'd intended it to be a single CD, "but there was no way to contain the damn thing. People kept asking to be on it, and I wasn't going to turn them down."
So there are 30 choice Lowe tunes done by such known quantities as the reunited-just-for-this-project Foster & Lloyd, Dave Alvin, Chris Gaffney and Steve Wynn; cult faves Don Dixon, Ian Gomm, the Muffs' Kim Shattuck and James Intveld; and other persons, some of whom are possibly even less famous than Clevenger. There are a lot of musician's musicians on here, such as Eric Amble, late of the Del Lords and currently with Steve Earle; Terry Anderson, who wrote the Georgia Satellites' "Battleship Chains"; and Rick Shea, long a staple of the local roots scene, who teams up here with Seattle's Christy McWilson.
The result is a rockin' little record you'll want your jockey to play. On some tribute albums, the performers try to show how hip they are by rendering the songs unrecognizable. On others, they hone so close to the original versions that it sounds more like counterfeiting than a tribute. On Lowe Profile, most of the artists don't stray far from the near-perfection of Lowe's renditions, but they still infuse the tracks with their own personalities—Intveld's soulful take on "Lonesome Reverie" being a standout example of that.
Lowe's highlights are here, including "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and "Cruel to Be Kind," which Clevenger had considered too obvious a hit to include until he heard Gomm's (who co-wrote the song) hot version. There is also a slew of lesser-known tunes, such as "What's Shaking on the Hill" and "Love So Fine." And they've generously avoided a lot of Lowe's best songs, leaving room for future tribute albums. There's evidently no shortage of musicians who love the guy.
"That had a lot to do with how this album came together," Clevenger said. "I'd ask one musician, like Jamie Hoover, to be on it, and he'd tell another—Don Dixon, in Jamie's case—and he'd want to get a song in too.
"With Foster & Lloyd, I'd asked Bill Lloyd to do a song, and he felt his vocal wasn't what he hoped, so he asked Radney to join him on it, so it became the first Foster & Lloyd track in 15 years, which was pretty cool. It only happened because they like Nick Lowe so much."
Clevenger did the album on half a shoestring. "There was no recording budget whatsoever. I offered my studio for free for any artist who wanted to record here, and quite a few took me up on that. But the out-of-state ones obviously couldn't. Fortunately, most of the musicians I know either have home studios or access to ones with low rates."
Brewery Records' next keggers will be a reissue of a muyobscure album by the '80s OC band the Tickets, which Clevenger describes as sounding "like Glenn Tilbrook fronting Rockpile," and a new solo album by former Tickets front man Bryan Shaddix (who's also on Lowe Profile). Clevenger figures he'll get another album of his own done and out before the end of the year, since he works a little slower than Lowe, who is famed for regarding record production as a simple two-step process: "Bash it down, tart it up."
A TRIBUTE TO THE MUSIC OF NICK LOWE, WITH WALTER CLEVENGER AND THE DAIRY KINGS, DANNY OTT, SPARKLE*JETS UK, RICK SHEA, EUGENE EDWARDS, THE 'LECTRIC CHAIRS AND JEFF HAYES AT FITZGERALDS PUB, 19171 MAGNOLIA ST., HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 968-4523. SAT., 9 P.M. $5. 21+.