The Lucero star continues to shine bright on their tenth studio album All A Man Should Do, following the success of 2009’s 1372 Overton Park and 2012’s Women and Work the album was once again recorded at Memphis’ Ardent Studios with producer Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Flogging Molly) handling production duties again, though this time around the band’s sound has shifted, mellowed a little and soaked up some more of that legendary Memphis soul.
Ben Nichols’ writing has never being better and that reflects in the bands confidence with the song arrangements and the feel of the album “…we felt comfortable enough to take some chances with a palette of new tones that sound understated yet powerful, bringing life to the stories behind the lyrics without overshadowing them…“, though there’s a decent helping of sadness, regret and the rootlessness of band life the polestar on this album is more about home and positive matters of the heart – fittingly it features a cover from the legendary Memphis band Big Star, who’s sole surviving founder member Jody Stephens adds backing vocals to Lucero’s version of I’m in Love with a Girl, the first cover to appear on a Lucero studio release also features later day Big Star members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow.
Nicols and the band find time to honour another legend with the excellent Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles one of the album’s many highlights alongside the more ‘Lucero’ sounding Can’t You Hear Them Howl, though personally my favourite tracks are the ‘quieter’ ones the pick of which is I Woke Up In New Orleans – though this should not draw away from the fact this album is very much the sum of it’s parts and the band’s best-to-date in my opinion – highly recommended.
London’s Sweetheart Contract are on the bill with a Beat Surrender favourite the mighty Lucero next week at Brixton Windmill (Nov 28 and 29), lead-singer Dexy has previously played solo with Ben Nichols as well as Cory Branan, Jon Snodgrass and Austin Lucas and the band were support to another favourite Lydia Loveless earlier this month – illustrious company indeed.
Lucero’s wonderful Women & Work we be available soon in the UK from Beat Surrender favourites Loose Music and the band are over this side of the pond on their ‘Tennessee Takeover’ European tour from November 19th, the dates are below but selling out already so get in there if you want to see one of the best live bands around.
Women & Work is a love letter from Lucero to their 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, from a bohemian place.”
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.
“On My Way Downtown”, the album’s lead song, tells the story – a reserved guitar riff sets the mood, a couple of 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 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 (Gaslight Anthem) pushed the band toward a sacred sound, they realized it could significantly add to the album’s country soul feel.
The band remains a solid unit, even as it changes. Lucero began broadening its sound in 2005 when they brought in Rick Steff—man of the keys (piano, organ, and accordion). in 2007, they expanded again with the addition of pedal steel whiz Todd Beene, 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. 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.”