John Felice will always be best known as the beer-fueled, hot-wired frontman for Boston proto-punks the Real Kids, but that band's work didn't represent the full range of his musical abilities, and in 1987, with the Kids temporarily on the rocks, Felice offered fans another look at himself with his short-lived solo project, John Felice & the Lowdowns. With the Lowdowns, Felice wrote tough but thoughtful songs about broken hearts, busted lives, and the dark side of life in rock & roll, and he put ten of them on wax with the album Nothing Pretty. But for an album that dealt so strongly with lives gone wrong, it was sadly appropriate that the album died before it ever had a chance -- it was released by Ace of Hearts the same day their distributor went bankrupt, which prevented nearly the entire press run from ever reaching stores. It's a shame that it has taken 16 years for the album to finally get a proper release in the United States (thanks to longtime Real Kids boosters Norton Records), but a listen to the disc proves it was worth the wait -- conjuring up a stripped-down ghost of the Rolling Stones with its lean, guitar-based sound (built around the intertwined guitars of Felice and fellow Real Kid Billy Borgioli), Nothing Pretty is a superb piece of street-smart, no-frills rock & roll, and Felice has never shone brighter as a songwriter, especially on the bitter junkie's lament "Ain't We Having Fun," the post-breakup kiss-off "Not the One," and the heartbreaking "I'll Never Sing That Song Again," a sad but unsentimental look at a rocker nearing the end of his creative road. In his liner notes for the reissue, Felice says, "I am still more proud of this work than anything I have ever done," and it's not hard to see why -- on Nothing Pretty, he dug deep into his heart and soul and came up with a minor masterpiece, and while it may have slipped though the cracks before, there's no reason for anyone who cares about smart but hard-edged rock to pass it by this time.