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Billed as the last installment of a trilogy initiated in 1994 with The Impossible Bird and continued a few years later with Dig, Nick Lowe's The Convincer is a laid-back, understated album of bluesy, country-tinged ballads far more suggestive of Muscle Shoals or Stax than the one-man Phil Spectorisms of the Londoner's power-pop youth. Here Lowe combines winningly crafted originals ("Lately I've Let Things Slide," "Cupid Must Be Angry" and "I'm a Mess") with well-chosen covers of "Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart" and the Johnny Rivers classic "Poor Side of Town." Ironically, Lowe thought he'd unearthed a little-known gem in the latter (the song was obscure in the U.K.), and it was only later that he discovered the tune had been a hit here in the mid-'60s.

The legacies of George Jones and Johnny Cash loom large on The Convincer (Lowe was once married to Carlene Carter, Cash's stepdaughter), and Burt Bacharach's spirit also lurks somewhere in the background. Steve Donnelly's shimmering guitar is a joy to behold, and Geraint Watkins' soulful keyboards recall that of Bob Andrews back when he and Lowe worked together in Brinsley Schwarz, the legendary early '70s pub- rockers whose attempts to capture an authentic American sound rarely rang 100-percent true.

The Convincer more than convinces. Lowe has come full circle, returning to an amalgam of styles he has long worshipped. But this time he sounds very much like an insider.

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