Nick Lowe’s been a lot of things: cofounder of quintessential pub rock band Brinsley Schwartz, ground-level coperpetrator of the Stiff Records punk rock/new wave revolution, producer-at-large for Elvis Costello, the Damned, Pretenders, and John Hiatt (to name a few), roots revisionist in Rockpile with Dave Edmunds, postroots all-star in Little Village with Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner. He’s also led a checkered solo career. Long considered a master of the perfect pop song–remember the spritely “Cruel to Be Kind”?–Lowe departs from tradition with his latest effort, his first since getting dropped by Warner Brothers. The Impossible Bird (Upstart) finds the once self-proclaimed “Jesus of Cool” in a somber mood, delivering a song cycle about a dying relationship: not necessarily very original turf, but Lowe’s specialty has always been reinvention. Rather than fine-tune a collection of high-gloss gems, he presents his music as something immediate and genuine, and the stripped-down musical approach complements his dark lyrics. But don’t go thinking that he’s become Nick Drake; his originals still course with killer hooks and familiar turns of phrase, but in contrast to his previous fork-tongued smugness he’s positioned himself as a vulnerable fellow shuffling between self-empowering determination on “12-Step Program (To Quit You Babe),” painful pleading on “Lover Don’t Go,” and ruminative remorse on “Withered on the Vine.” It’s a superb album, not so much for its splendor but in its restrained honesty. This could be the real Nick Lowe. Excellent country-revisionist, soul-singing popster Jim Lauderdale opens. Friday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Andrew Crowley.