Review – Nick Curran & The Lowlifes “Reform School Girl” (RIP)

October 7, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  30 Comments

If you want proof that in 2012 genuine old-fashioned rock n’ roll is indeed roots music, look no further than Nick Curran & The Lowlifes and the album Reform School Girl.

Unfortunately Nick Curran passed away on Saturday (10-6-12) after a long fight with oral cancer. He was originally diagnosed in 2010 and was said to be free of the disease by June. Then in April of 2011 the cancer came back, and has now claimed a great guitar player, singer, and rock n’ roll composer. But what Nick left behind was a revitalization of the true soul of rock & roll.

Reform School Girl is one of the funnest albums you could ever get your hands on. I mean this stuff is like Viagra; it shouldn’t be consumed unless your heart is healthy enough for strenuous activity because your head is going to be bopping, your hips are going to be hunching, and you will be making a damn fool of yourself like you were a little kid dancing around your living room. This is the most raw, primal version of rock n’ roll the human ear can handle.

What raises Reform School Girl from “fun” to “iconic” though is the the level of dedication Nick Curran brought to authentically re-creating the feel of rock n’ roll from the 50’s. Some will complain that Curran completely ripped off certain elements, like the drum intro on the title track “Reform School Girl” and how it sounds very similar to “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes.

But this is what you need to understand: There’s albums all over the place right now that are trying to re-create the vintage vibe in one capacity or another. And they may get one element right, maybe the tone of the vocals, or the style of the music. But the fantasy is most often compromised by something: Cuss words or other anachronistic language that don’t fit the time, a style or tone that wasn’t around in the 50’s, or the recording is only partially done with vintage flair or feel.

Reform School Girl however is the full package. Nick Curran was painstakingly dedicated to making this album authentic through and through to the 50’s era. From the tone, to the style, to the energy, to the licks and lyrics, to the recording equipment and the recording technique, you can go through this album and not find one single element that isn’t indigenous to the 1950’s era, and by doing so, Curran awakens that inherent yearning embedded in all of us to transport back to that time and feel the warmth, positivity, and coolness that permeated that period in America.

This is the legacy of Nick Curran, along with his enthusiasm and his amazing guitar licks. From his debut album Fixin’ Your Head in 1999, Curran was able to take you back to a better place and time. He was the time travel agent for those old souls born in the wrong era.

Rest In Peace Nick Curran, you done good. You made life down here a little happier, but apparently Heaven needs a rock n’ roll revitalization too.

Two guns way up!

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 Preview & Purchase Tracks of Reform School Girl

30 Comments to “Review – Nick Curran & The Lowlifes “Reform School Girl” (RIP)”

  • There’s a discussion thread on No Depression about naming a time when the opening act was better than the headliner at a show. I thought of seeing Nick Curran open for Jimmie Vaughan with Lou Ann Barton. Now, I won’t say he blew Jimmie off the stage, because Jimmie put on an absolutely great show. But I have to say Nick was just terrific. Had never heard of him. Best opening act I’ve seen ever by miles. Really cool vintage guitar sound. Jarringly great singer (how can that white man channel Little Richard like that?). And just a great over the top energetic stage presence. Bought his Player album that night.

    Reform School Girl is a great album. One of my favorites for 2010.

  • Could you please define the term “roots music”? This album is definitely not country music.

    • Roots music in my opinion is any music that has gone into the formation of modern music. Roots genres are the foundation from which music builds from. For example blues and folk music went into building country and rock n’ roll. As music has continued to evolve, and rock music specifically, the original rock n’ roll sound in my opinion has become a roots genre just like the blues. I believe this has happened with jazz as well. Neither of these are really popular contemporary music forms any more, but the roots of these genres can still be found in modern popular music.

      • It’s still interesting that you would review a full-blown rock album, when you have criticized mainstream country music for incorporating too many rock elements. This is exactly the type of music that 50’s country fans (e.g. Hank Williams fans) despised.

        • The great thing about having your own website is you can do whatever the hell you want. I’m a fan of good music first. Then I am a fan of good country music.

          This is not a “full-blown rock album,” it is a throwback, neotraditional rock n’ roll album that as I explained in the review and in subsequent comments fits squarely into what I define as roots music today. In that respect, this album has more to do with country than most of what they play on the radio today, not just because it is roots, but because it is real. The awful, Richie Sambora-inspired arena rock guitar riffs that plague much of modern “country” music has very little akin to what Nick Curran tried to evoke in his music. At the same time, modern rock can be integrated into country if it is done with taste and with respect to country’s roots, like with Eric Church’s “Creepin'” that I reviewed exclusively because of that reason a few weeks ago.

          But the reason I reviewed this album is because the guy just died and nobody had written about it up to this point beyond on social networks. If I had known Nick Curran personally or knew more about him, I probably would have written an obituary. But since I only know him through his music., that’s what I wrote about. The point of this website is to share great music, and I thought this album was worth sharing.

          • “This is not a “full-blown rock album,” it is a throwback, neotraditional rock n’ roll album that as I explained in the review and in subsequent comments fits squarely into what I define as roots music today. In that respect, this album has more to do with country than most of what they play on the radio today, not just because it is roots, but because it is real.”

            First of all, this is a full-blown 50’s rock n roll album. It sounds very similar to Elvis’s songs from that time. So in that respect, it is very much a “full-blown” rock album.

            And I’m confused by the reasoning you put forth connecting this album to country. You seem to be arguing that because this album harkens back to a 50’s sound, it constitutes roots music, and therefore is more “country” than most of what’s on the radio today, is that right? So is any 50’s song more “country” than what’s on the radio today? How about jazz music? Or how about the ultimate “roots” genre, classical music?

          • Christ dude, I thought I would right something nice about a dude who just died of Cancer at 35 and who made some cool music. If you don’t get that, then quite honestly, you’re not ready for Saving Country Music, and there’s no need to argue semantics with you.

            All these comments and you’ve not yet said one thing about how you feel about this man’s music.

          • I am simply discussing the connection between genres and the idea of what constitutes “roots” music. Do you not welcome musical analysis and discussion on your website? I was not talking about Nick Curran personally. It is truly a tragedy that he died so young and my condolences go out to him.

            Regarding the music: this is not my preferred style of music, but I admire the creativity and heart he put into this album, and especially the manner in which he thoroughly captured the early rock n roll sound.

        • And how do you know “This is exactly the type of music that 50′s country fans (e.g. Hank Williams fans) despised?

          • I think it’s pretty common knowledge that the older generation in the 1950s despised rock n roll. They disliked the loud sound of the music and were worried that this type of music would lead to “social rebellion”. Among middle-aged and older Southern whites (who after all formed the core fan base of country music), there was additional worry that rock n roll would lead to “race-mixing”.

          • Well seeing how Hank Williams died at 29 and was taught how to play guitar by a black man doesn’t seem to corroborate your story that he and his fans were old and racist.

          • Hank Williams himself may not have been racist, but the idea that country music fans in the 1950’s were not racist in general is just ridiculous.

  • As in the roots of rock n’ roll.

  • I’m sorry, but I didn’t fully read the beginning of your article.

    RIP Nick Curran.

  • Never heard of him until I read this article. He made some really good music though. RIP, Mr. Curran.

  • WOAH! Never heard him, but the songs you posted are awesome. Man I wish I would’ve heard of him sooner. Cancer sucks. I gotta go check out his catalog now. Good stuff, thanks Triggerman.

  • Nick was an incredible talent. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform several times in different bands, and he was such a monster guitar player. And man… those vocals… holy crap! Sheer rock & roll fury! He was one of a kind, and will certainly be missed. Very sad, indeed.

  • Nick was the best. As a sideman with Ronnie Dawson, Doyle Bramhall, C.C. Adcock, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kim Lenz, Billy Lee Riley and so many more. and as an artist in his own right With the Nitelifes, the Lowlifes, Deguello, The Attitudes, the Flashboys and even his Misfits Tribute ‘Children in Heat’. He Ate Drank slept breathed and bled music. He was one of the people who could go from Jimmie Rodgers to Motorhead in 3 steps or less. The man wore his influences right there for the world to see. From the portraits of Little Richard and Angus Young portraits, to the Danzig Skull and the and the Johnny Thunders tattoos, there was no pigeonholing Nick, his music, or his influences. He’s always been incredibly humble, and friendly, and never though twice about helping a friend. During an attitudes tour in 2009, our guitar player got the stomach flu. Nick had played the night before at a club show. He didn’t hesitate to sit down with me that afternoon, learn a ton of material, and then do 3 sets of Christmas music at the Opryland Hotel, followed by another 4 hours of rock n roll with us at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn downtown. His guitar playing is considered legendary amongst those who know him, he counts Jimmie Vaughn, Billy Gibbons, and Dan Auerbach as fans. In fact Nick had texted me earlier in the year, that he’d been asked to guest on the new Black Keys record. Unfortunatley it conflicted with his Chemo schedule, and it never came to be. He endured more pain than any human being should ever have to and even after massively invasive surgeries on his mouth and throat, virtually unable to speak, he stayed 100% positive. When we played Austin last fall, Nick sat in on guitar with us, and when we did a Little Richard song, that dude even managed to sing a few lines. I don’t know anyone who’s ever met Nick that didn’t like him. Because of tour schedules, and then his illness we rarely got hang out face to face, but when we did, the conversation picked up right where it left off. We used to joke that we shared the same brain. He was an incredible talent, an incredible person, and most of all he was my friend. I love him and I’ll miss him terribly.

  • PS Triggerman- He cut 90% of the guitars on ‘Reform School Girl’ using a hot pink 80’s Kramer. :)

  • I believe Geoff summed it up beautifully, the only thing I would add is that w/out traditional 50’s R&R and Real Rockabilly you wouldnt have many of the artists now on Farmageddon. Practically every country artist in the 50’s who was anybody cut at least one rockabilly track. George Jones, Buck Owens(who also played for Gene Vincent) Waylon Jennings played as a crickett w/Buddy Holly,Roy Orbison, Warren Smith the list goes on and on…And Eric if you try to tell me that “Hey good lookin” aint rockabilly, then your an even bigger moron than you seem right now. The “ROOTS” of today’s roots music is just as much 50’s rock as it is a traditional Irish jig or Austrian composition. In my opinion of course.

    • “Hey Good Lookin” is not rock n roll. The instrumentation is very different.

      • The instrumentation is hardly different at all. In fact, it’s the identical instrumentation as Carl Smith’s Go Boy Go, which is considered a rockabilly classic. To go you one further, ‘Move it on over’ was the first Rock and Roll song. 12 bar blues with 4 on the floor drums, walking slap bass replete with synchopated triplets in lead breaks, call and response gang vocal. all of the requirements for a rock and roll song. And it predates the first ‘official’ rock & roll song “Rocket “88” by 4 years.

        Don’t be a music snob, it’s petty. and it’s also disrespectful as hell to the memory of one of my dearest friends.

        • I apologize if I’m coming off as a music snob. It’s definitely not my intention.

  • For the life of me I can’t understand why rockabilly isn’t more popular.

  • Trig, awesome review! Thanks for turning me onto such a raw and soulful artist. I love your country reviews, but it is nice to have variety on this site. If it wasn’t for you featuring this album on SCM I would have never checked it out. It’s too bad Nick is gone, He could have done more great things, and I would have loved to see him live. Keep it up Trig, and RIP Nick Curran.

  • Triggerman,

    Nice review. I’ve always liked Nick Curran.

    Have you ever thought of adding a “block” feature on this site, so when a poster (I hasten to call them a “contributor”) posts over and over again, whining about racism in a thread about a recently-deceased artist, I don’t have to read about it?

    • Are you referring to me? My comment on racism was not about Nick Curran. I went off on a tangent about musical genres and the ensuing side discussion ultimately led down some long, winding path to the racism issue. As I have mentioned, Nick Curran’s death is a terrible tragedy, and I apologize for taking this thread off topic.

      • Strike “hasten” and insert “hesitate.” Pardon me for butchering the English language. It was late, and I was half asleep. In the light of day, I see my error…

  • It should also be mentioned that Nick toured with Wayne Hancock. It doesn’t get much more country than that.

  • surprised he did a original Bon Scott era ACDC tune (“Rocker”), sounded great

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