Nine Below Zero

It's Never Too Late!

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Reunions are for suckers. What's more pathetic than a bunch of has-beens long past their sell-by date doddering about on-stage, crucifying their hits and unwrapping new material they'd have turned their own noses up in their heyday? Not much. But Nine Below Zero are a solid exception to this rule, a band that returned with a vengeance and continued going from strength to strength. The (original) group reached their pinnacle with 1982's Third Degree album, and taking that as its cue, the re-formed band began rebuilding on that mighty foundation. Now, after many years, Nine Below Zero have finally recorded a studio set of all new music, kicking off with the stirring "Breakin' Down," an exhilarating R&B number with the emphasis bouncing back and forth between the blues licks and harp, and the pumping rhythm, which itself breaks down into hip-hop during the middle break. It's Never Too Late! Is filled with these unexpected twists, and a breath-taking ability to subtly weave together echoes of the past. "Hit the Spot," for example, simultaneously nods to Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Rolling Stones, at least until Mark Feltham's harmonica returns both bands to their blues roots. "Little by Little" sounds like a Stax hit (hey Sam & Dave, it's not too late!), but delivered in laid-back '70s rock style (think Harry Nilson). A number of songs are sprinkled with a southern seasoning, but not "I'm So Alone"; it's equal parts early Beatles and post-punk angst. There's soulful funk to be found, the odd nod to early Elvis Costello, a bow to U2, and even a touch of psychedelia which swirls around "Fairweather Friends." Former Rory Gallagher cohorts Gerry McAvoy and Brendan O'Neill are solid as a rock, a rhythm team that can't be beat, while the interplay between Dennis Greaves' guitar riffs and licks, and Feltham's harmonica is a marvel to behold. Sam & Dave aren't the only stars who should be checking out this set, so strong are the songs that any soul man (or woman) would be wise to add at least one to their repertoire, while we'll leave Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and John Cougar Mellancamp to fight over "Mechanic Man," but quickly, before a reactivated boogie band scoop it up for itself.

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