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.”
Spring has sprung and we are a 1/4 way through 2012 already, this last few weeks has seen the arrival of a raft of wonderful recordings and I thought it an appropriate time to put something on record.
My youngest is now starting to take more notice of the sounds emanating from the various speakers and portable devices his old man appears to have permanently switched on in one form or another and made a rather sweeping statement last week “Dad you listen to so much different music” which started a variety is the spice of life conversation, not sure he wholly grasped my initial responses but with a few football comparisons thrown in a little nod of the head acknowledged the concept, so the blog will continue to ignore any central focus, genre, artist type or hype and simply focus on the music I like.
Kicking things of is Simone Felice who’s first solo album proper has made a real impression on this listener and this reviewer too – a really self-effecting album with some truly excellent writing.
Last week saw the arrival of the follow up to Lucero’s horn adorned 1372 Overton Park (2012) the bands sound has taken a larger step away from the raucous roots rock ‘n’ roll of the earlier recordings, the ‘new’ sound embracing a more soulful type of rock ‘n’ roll and after a few spins the Memphis soul-train has me on-board and stoked to be along for the ride.
Any recording by Paul Weller is of course an highly anticipated event here and of the back of the two previous albums the expectations were high for Sonik Kicks, rarely has Mr Weller been a disappointment to me and he avoids doing so this time around too, whilst the album has had the impact of 22 Dreams or Wake Up the Nation it is still a great recording and combines enough of the old and new to prove once again his status as one of nations absolute finest musicians of the last 30 years.
From Woking to Stockholm, working their magic into what I’d describe as a more radio friendly package of songs the Söderberg sisters have produced a wonderful album in The Lion’s Roar, not a weak link or shooed in track to be found it’s a fantastic collection of songs that I’m sure will remain of my playlist for years to come.
Following on from 2012 Joe Hill’s Ashes Otis Gibbs has produced another great collection of American songs forHarder Than Hammered Hell, in a parallel world of more perceptive musical tastes Mr Gibbs would be a household name and his tunes would find themselves floating out of speakers all over the place.
No round-up would be complete without a couple of records from country side of the tracks, may I recommend a couple that I’m more than keen on, the first from this side of The Big Pond is the retro-duet offering from the collective talents of Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish who as My Darling Clementine have produced a classic sounding duets album that pays homage to Johnny and June, Dolly and Porter or George and Tammy but there’s not a cover version to be found all the songs are originals and the albums are real delight, crossing over the water another album that’s getting plenty of airtime with me is Rachel Harrington & The Knock-outs self titled début, you can read my thoughts and listen to tracks here.
The advent of Kickstarter, Pledge, Indie GoGo and the like has really opened up avenues for artists to get their music out to the fans with the help and support of the fans, a winner for both sides, I’ve backed a few projects over the last couple of years and yet to be disappointed by the result of my investment and this last quarter has seen the arrival of quality albums from Nat Johnson and the Figureheads, Sons of Bill, Melody Walker, Ellen & The Escapades and some rough mixes and bonus tracks from Kasey Anderson and the Honkies.
Three albums I’m very much looking getting my hands on soon.
First the Kickstarter funded Sons of Bill album Sirens – seems like an age since I backed this but won’t be long before the David Lowery produced CD hits the doormat, here’s Santa Anna Winds , how good is this.
Arliss Nancy‘s new album is due on Suburban Home in March, Nine Bullets premiered a track recently if you missed it, grab it here – turn up the volume. You can still pick up the bands EP Truckstop Roses gratis here.
Lucero’s new one, their eight studio release Women and Work is another highly anticipated release and if the taster track is anything to go buy it’s going to be another storming album, out on ATO / Shock March 13th.