John Nichols Band – The Country Life EP

John Nichols Band - The Country Life EP

John Nichols Band – The Country Life EP

John Nichols fronts his namesake band backed-up by Matthew Chase on guitar and Brad Kimes on drums.  While his hometown of Baltimore is not known for churning out country-rock artists, Nichols is the exception, mixing the grit of the city with the twang of country on his slick and engaging tunes.  Just take a look at the cover of his new debut EP, The Country Life, to see where he’s coming from – Nichols in a classic white t-shirt, holding a traditional acoustic guitar while backed by the city skyline.

The 5-track EP comes via Chase Records and highlights Nichols’ breaking out from being a session player in the Baltimore music scene and supporting player of nationally touring bands, like the Violent Femmes and Better Than Ezra, when they drop into Baltimore.  Now Nichols is a bona fide solo artist (with a band) with an EP under his belt.

Nichols also has a specific musical aim – to focus on crafting insightful lyrics that bring a deeper meaning to the traditional country and rock formats.  Whether he accomplishes this is up for debate.  His combination of modern and outlaw country, rock, bluegrass, and even folk, along with high production values, however, creates a flowing, upbeat, and melodic atmosphere from the first to the last track.  Each song is topped with Nichols’ passionate and sharply rich vocal delivery.

EP leader “Two Shots” hits the spot, starting off with fluidly finger-picked acoustic guitar, long loops of slide guitar, and a loping pace of thumped drums.  Nichols is subdued on the verses, but then kicks it up several notches on the chorus sections, fervently crying out the super-catchy refrain, “I’m singin’ two shots / Bang, bang / ‘cause we’re through / Two shots / Bang, bang / I’m over you.”  Nichols plays the wronged protagonist on the song, cleverly incorporating all sorts of rhyming reference to drinking (verses gun-shooting) in order to get over the relationship gone sour.  The only strike against “Two Shots” is the ungentlemanly use of the word “bitch”.  While it’s a pervasive term used in popular music today to describe the wrong-doer, that doesn’t make it right.

Stop-start, lyrically-superficial country-rocker “Luckiest Man Alive” continues the relationship (and drinking) theme, lurching with stabbing jags of guitar, crashing cymbals, and emphatic drums.  There’s a smooth undercurrent of rambling, picked banjo-like lines that contrasts with the choppy feel of the rest of the instruments.  Nichols (well, the character he’s playing) crows about his latest conquest old-school country-style, proclaiming “Jackpot / She can even shoot whiskey / Alright, now she’s goin’ home with me / Hell, yeah, feels like I just won the lottery.”  Again, the attitude towards women is questionable and the number plays into all the traditional country tropes, but it’s still a heckuv an infectious tune.

Nichols mellows out and dives into deeper emotions and lyrics on “Loving You Was Easy”, reflecting upon a failed relationship, pining in an earnest tone, “Don’t leave before I make it home / Just stay there / Right back when you cared / And loving me was easy.”  He’s accompanied by several curling guitar lines, burnished cymbal accents, and a slow drum beat.  The peaen “Country Life” is an up-tempo, positive-vibed tune with Nichols’ vocals backed by another singer on the chorus.  He celebrates the life of ‘beer, fishing, and bonfires’ out in the country, belting out with comfortable joy “…it feels just right / …I love this country life.”

“You Took All the Good” ends the EP on a lamenting, but vibrant note, radiating outwards with a bluesy, gleaming slide guitar line, acoustic guitar strum, shimmering cymbals, and a steady beat.  Nichols intones in a plaintive voice, backed by pushes of wavering organ notes, exclaiming on the chorus against a thumping backbeat, “…Ain’t no good in the way you said goodbye / …The way you said it just tears me up inside / because I know you’re gone for good…”  Hopefully that’s not the case with Nichols and his band and they stick around for the long haul.

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