We started at punk rock shows, not necessarily playing punk rock, but coming from the outside, from a bohemian place
Lucero are many things.
They're a band that doesn't have fans as much as they have diehards who come to every show and scream the words to every song from their classic albums like Tennessee and That Much Further West. They're road warriors who live in their tour van and have had their touring experiences chronicled in the Dreaming In America DVD.
They're a band that has been tagged as alt-country and punk country. They're a band that has written plenty of songs about girls and guitars, and about life, love, drinking, and life, love, and drinking while on the road. They expanded their lyrical palette on 2005's critically acclaimed Nobody's Darlings and in 2006 they re-released the hard-to-find home-recorded gem, The Attic Tapes.
But on Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Lucero prove themselves to be something much simpler than that: a tried n true American rock n roll band.
To call Lucero Memphis' answer to Bruce Springsteen is not a stretch. It's just how it is. On Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Lucero aren't afraid to show how much The Boss has been an influence on them, all the while maintaining their patented sound and style. Being from the South is important I think. It gives the songs a place. It makes Lucero what it is. The Pogues could never have been from anywhere other than Ireland. Bruce Springsteen could only be from Jersey. I'd like to think where we're from comes through in the songs.
On Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Lucero continue to tell vivid stories, peppering their lyrics with references to slice-of-life and small town Americana culture. They play with Southern rock, pop, and a heart-wrenching ballad on the new album. Twangy riffs complement Ben Nichols' signature whiskey-soaked vocals. But Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers represents another chapter in the evolution of Lucero. Sure, they're doing the things they've always done, the things that their fans love. But this time out, they've turned the corner a bit, thanks to the addition of keys by Rick Steff, who also contributed keys on Cat Power's The Greatest record. Here, Lucero fill out several songs with organs and pianos. As a result, Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers is full, memorable, and layered, complete with resonant songs that tug at your heartstrings, and that take up real estate in your brain for days at a time. Gorgeous, varied rock songs are the order of the day on Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers.
Ultimately, Lucero live to rock and rock to live. No more. No less. Its really that simple. -Amy Sciarretto
Women & Work is a love letter from Lucero to its hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. 'Having a band in Memphis puts you in a tradition,' says Lucero frontman Ben Nichols. 'We started at punk rock shows, not necessarily playing punk rock, but coming from the outside.'
The bohemian tradition is just as strong in Memphis as the city's series of international hits. The popularity of Sun, Stax, Elvis, and Al Green doesn't diminish the influence of the blues, Jim Dickinson, and Alex Chilton. The bridge between the shadows and the spotlight has become the heart of Lucero: Unafraid to mix pop with their anti-pop, they always charge into new territory.
As punks, Lucero were masters of restraint, with country music beer stains dribbled down the front of their shirts. As whiskey-soaked bohemians, they didn't shy from sweeping Americana tableaus. And then they added an accordion. 'When we started, we were building on a foundation we weren't aware of,' says guitarist Brian Venable. 'Listening back to our early stuff, we hear ourselves reference the old Sun Records. We didn't hear it or feel it then, but we hear it and feel it now.'
Women & Work, their 8th album, is such an exciting presentation of the band's eclectic explorations that it makes their 14-year meandering path appear to be a straight line to this very record. 'We're more comfortable in our own skin as a band, more comfortable acknowledging regional influences,' says bassist John Stubblefield. 'We wound up making a Memphis country soul record.'
Integrating horns, pedal steel guitar, all manner of keyboards, and even a full-on gospel chorus, Women & Work is a fully realized musical extravaganza. Drawing inspiration from Delaney & Bonnie's obscure first album, Home, on the Stax label, Lucero's ambivalence about tradition has been replaced by an exuberant embrace. Women & Work is like Arcade Fire baptized in Joe Cocker and Leon Russell's Mad Dogs, then warmed with Don Nix's Alabama State Troopers.
'On My Way Downtown,' the album's lead song, tells the story: a reserved guitar riff sets the mood, a couple instruments quietly fall in and Ben adds the first contemplative vocals. The song seems headed firmly into the punk-rock-made-pretty territory of their roots--until the organ sustains a chord, the tempo ratchets up, and Lucero becomes a band that doesn't ask but rather insists that you move your feet. Go ahead hipster--dance!
'Go Easy' is something new for the band: gospel music. A sing-along with a large female chorus, it's more likely to close the bar than open the
church, but when returning producer Ted Hutt pushed the band toward a sacred sound, they realized it could cinch the album's country soul feel.
'You work all week, thinking about women and the weekend,' says Nichols. ''Downtown' is Friday night, 'Go Easy' is Sunday morning. The rest of the record is the party in between.'
Nichols recently moved from stage to screen, playing a lead role in the acclaimed MTV series $5 Cover, directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Footloose). The character was a rambling musician, and Nichols brought authority to the performance. In 2009, he released a solo album, The Last Pale Light In the West, a collection of acoustic songs based loosely on Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
But the band remains a solid unit, even as it changes. Lucero began broadening its sound in 2007 when they brought in Rick Steff--man of the keys (piano, organ, and accordion). The following year, they expanded again with the addition of pedal steel whiz Todd Beane, and then again more recently with Memphis's funkiest horn section--Jim Spake and Scott Thompson (Al Green, Cat Power).
Lucero keeps on pushing. For most of the past decade, the band has averaged almost two out of every three nights on the road, steady-building their fan base. Last year, they broadened their audience on a long tour opening for Social Distortion.
Women & Work finds them on a new label, ATO Records (home to the Drive-By Truckers and My Morning Jacket), and the fit is a good one. 'The best-kept-secret band is now on the best-kept-secret label,' says V enable.
As different as Lucero may sound from their early days, this record also takes them full circle. 'When we began,' says drummer Roy Berry, 'we were known for how restrained we played. Our sound got bigger over the years, but the larger ensemble is making the core band sparse like we used to be--the songs just have more layers.'
- Robert Gordon
Artists We Like: Against Me!, The Hold Steady, American Princes
Influences: The Clash, The Replacements, Bruce Springsteen