Nic Armstrong and the Thieves: The Greatest White Liar

Nic Armstrong and the Thieves: The Greatest White Liar (New West Records)

Nic Armstrong is really into early and mid-1960s British rock. His debut album, The Greatest White Liar, is instantly reminiscent of at least half a dozen different artists from that time and place.

That’s not to say Armstrong is unoriginal; he’s not. As a singer, the 25-year-old Englishman has a voice all his own, and he and his band have a real knack for the simple, stripped-down tunes of that era. His songs instantly reference The Byrds, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles, among others.

Recorded at the currently hip Toe Rag Studios and produced by Liam Watson (The White Stripes, The Zutons), Liar is a full-fledged retro-pop album that nicely mixes varying styles and tempos.

The first track, “I Can’t Stand It,” is a lively rock song with great guitar hooks. It’s followed nicely by “Broken Mouth Blues”; true to the album’s title, Armstrong does his best to imitate the black artists that influenced the likes of Lennon, Jagger, and Clapton.

A cover of the Leiber/Butler song, “Down Home Girl” (also covered by the Stones, among others) is a feisty rendition. “Back in That Room” appears to be Armstrong’s best stab at Zeppelin. “Too Long for Her” and “She Changes Like the Weather” could pass for pages from Harrison’s and McCartney’s song books, respectively.

The melody of these songs is instant. “Scratch the Surface” exhibits Armstrong with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and bass drum, and the result is a catchy tune. “The Finishing Touch” is a mid-tempo pop song that gives a nod to a major influence of Armstrong’s idols, Buddy Holly. The album ends with a taut rendition of Chuck Berry’s “I Want to Be Your Driver.”

Armstrong sounds polished and refined on his debut. Each song flows smoothly to the next, deftly utilizing the great sounds and feel of a bygone era. The songs are simple and uncluttered, with good songwriting and great hooks.

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