Chris Daly is all 100 of the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Prince scholars.
On his Blue Note debut, Lovers, guitar virtuoso Nels Cline has redefined “mood music.” The Wilco axe man—ranked among Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”—has surrounded himself with 23 musicians conducted and arranged by Michael Leonhart to play new originals, jazz standards, and jams from such eclectic sources as Sonic Youth, Arto Lindsay, Jimmy Giuffere, and others. The resulting tapestry was twenty-five years in the making, comprised of rich, deep blue hues that even Miles would acknowledge as the right kind of cool.
“I have been dreaming about, planning, and re-working my rather obsessive idea of this record for well over twenty-five years, and it was always going to be called Lovers,” said Cline recently. “It is meant to be as personal in its sound and in its song selection as it is universal in its endeavor to assay or map the parameters of ‘mood’ as it once pertained, and currently pertains, to the peculiar and powerful connection between sound/song and intimacy/romance. In this, I hope Lovers offers something of an update of the ‘mood music’ idea and ideal, while celebrating and challenging our iconic notion of romance.”
While the immediate and obvious inspiration points are such standard bearers as Jim Hall, Bill Evans, and Gil Evans, there also are traces of numerous other greats throughout the double album set. Whether it’s the Chet Baker vibe on tracks like, “The Bed We Made,” or the Quincy Jones soundtracking groove of, “”The Night Porter / Max Mon Amour,” Cline ekes out a space between relaxed and refined and makes it his own. The further into left field NC travels, the more interesting he gets. Sonic Youth’s “Snare, Girl” is given new life with simple strings and an insistent beat, while Gabor Szabo’s “Lady Gabor” redefines what “hep” can and should be. Though the songs alter in tenor and intensity, the entire album coalesces and gels as each track ebbs and flows into one another. This is NOT a simple exercise in background jazz for the NPR set, but a fully realized effort to establish emotional connections that reflect on the nature of love itself.
As Cline set out to do, Lovers takes the concept of mood music and dusts it off for a new audience. The result is a laid back stroll on a crisp autumn day, filled with nuance and insights that become more obvious with each spin. With this ability to revamp the forgotten and forlorn sounds of an often forgotten genre and make it new again, Kline’s Lovers is your ultimate low-key recommendation.