Calm, creatively soothing songs for cold dark nights.
Jeb Loy Nichols is a musician, writer and artist who has lived on a remote smallholding in the Welsh hills for the past twenty years. Born in Wyoming and raised in Missouri, he went to New York City at seventeen, where he worked in a record store and fell in love with the emerging hip-hop culture. In the early 1980s, after moving to London, he shared a squat with Ari Up from The Slits. He also made the acquaintance of producer Adrian Sherwood, who was starting his record label On-U Sound. Nichols (with his then backing band, the Oil Wells) contributed a track to the early On-U Sound compilation ‘Wild Paarty Sounds‘. Twenty-nine years later, he finally made his first album for the label, a country-reggae hybrid ‘Long Time Traveller‘. In the 1990s, he formed the country-dub band Fellow Travellers, who recorded five CDs and toured extensively in Germany. Nichols has since gone on to record fifteen solo records. He has also published three novels and exhibited his distinctive woodcut artwork internationally. Growing up, Nichols would listen to southern soul on the radio. He would go to bluegrass festivals with his father and listen to jazz with his mother. It is producer Sherwood however, who he credits as his most significant influence due to his complete disregard for genre purity.
‘The United States of the Broken Hearted‘ incorporates all of the influences Nichols gathered; soul, jazz, country folk, together with protest songs. That said, whatever the subject matter, he remains calm and balanced. A master of slow, sentimental songwriting. Even when singing in protest, such as in his cover of Sarah Ogan Gunning’s ‘I Hate the Capitalist System‘, or the state of the world in ‘Monsters on The Hill‘, Nichols delivers with an easy-going allure that avoids extremes of emotion. Instead, his calm empowers the lyrics and gives the songs the deep meaning they deserve.
Juxtaposition plays a large part in Nichols’ writing, particularly in songs such as ‘Fold Me Up‘, ‘What Does a Man Do All Day‘ and ‘No Hiding Place For Me‘. The observation that ‘Big Troubles Come in Through a Small Door‘ reminds us that no matter where we are in our lives or, indeed, the world, it doesn’t take much for problems to ensue. Nichols’ breathy sound and the gentle groove to this song mean it is not about stating the obvious but showing a mature acceptance. Furthermore, his participation in the official dance video is particularly endearing.
Nichols’ cover of Woodie Guthrie & Martin Hoffman’s folk song ‘Deportees‘ is a pertinent description of how sad and dehumanizing it is to exile fellow human beings. And, in addition to the poignant title track ‘The United States of the Broken Hearted‘ it adds to the creation of this album of delicate, wistful music and contemplative prose which stirs the essence of our conscience.