Jeb Loy Nichols' fourth offering reveals the totality of the promise that his earlier records suggested and developed. All the beautiful threads he wove in Lovers Knot through Just What Time It Is and Easy Now have become a golden braid with Now Then. Nichols is a recording artist in the old style, carefully crafting and reexamining his art a step at a time. Others who have done this include Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Marvin Gaye. Recorded in Nashville and London by Mark Nevers, its guests include Dan Penn, Paul Burch, Shaila Prospere, Dennis "Blackbeard" Bovell, and many others. The sheer spare elegance of Now Then is startling. These are songs of love and leaving, travel and the fear of stasis. The style ranges from country-flavored folk to soul and groove-oriented slippery pop. The opener, "Sometimes Shooting Stars," says it all. A fat dub bass, glissando acoustic guitars, and hand percussion accompany Nichols' voice, which glides simply effortlessly into the lyric, pulling out its emotion gently, tenderly, and empathetically. "Really Together" is a soul-country duet with Shaila Prospere about the burgeoning possibility of love. But big drama comes in the very next cut, the hunted, haunting "Lelah Mae," and it's ushered in by a dramatic flourish from the Nashville String Machine. This is a "strange woman as demon and lover" folk tale that was big in country circles in the 1960s, and Nichols pulls it off with style. The sweet pop-soul of "Bad Fruit" stands in ironic contrast to the story it tells. The dark Western (as in movie theme) backdrop that fuels "Let's Make It Up" gets wonderfully turned on itself by the layers of strings, sexy female backing vocals, and soul lyric line in the refrain. The Memphis-styled horns that usher in "Morning Love" are enough, but Nichols' slow, seductive voice and wonderfully romantic words are full of the kind of tenderness that ushers in passion. The downtrodden "When Did You Stop Loving Me" is full of pain and longing, asking a former and very absent lover to answer the question. Electric pianos, fat yet subdued bass, and sticky guitars glide around the background as Nichols pours his heart out, slowly and purposely in the verse. It's dramatic and cathartic, without melodrama. There's a surprise at the end of the set for those willing to go down the rabbit hole to the other side. Now Then is Jeb Loy Nichols' finest moment. It's moving, honest, sultry, and utterly gorgeous, and thus far there's no American release -- which is criminal. This is worth the trouble to seek out.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek