Here’s a review from one of my favorite authors, Robert Gordon. I was lucky enough to be able to meet Robert the last time I was in Memphis. He is truly a music-lover and a writer’s writer.
Robert Gordon on Lucero:
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, 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from Delaney & Bonnie’s obscure first album, Home, on the Stax label, Lucero’s ambivalence about tradition has been replaced by an exuberant embrace. 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 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. 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 Venable.
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
Like the headline says. This from Lucero’s Facebook page:
Ok folks… Here’s what’s going to happen, sometime tomorrow we’ll go live with some special limited edition PRE-ORDER bundles for you (one-month before “street date”), the friends of LUCERO. Of course these “bundles” will be available to anyone who wants to click and buy, but it’ll be you (the friends who communicate with us on facebook and go to the website) that’ll learn about em first. SO… stay tuned. These bundles are limited to only 100 of a few various packages. You’ll see what we mean when we announce em. Get them while you can because once the bundles are gone, they’re gone. The album itself will be available forevermore, but these exclusive merch bits are for the early-birds only. Get ready… Set…
Lucero will be one of around 22 artists to play a two day festival in July headlined by Metallica. In fact, according to this LiveStream video that went live earlier today, Metallica picked every band on the bill. The festival will mark the first time ever that Metallica plays the “Black Album” in its entirety, which they’ll do one of the nights.
The fine folks over at Ardent Studios in Memphis have a fine blog where most of the content is created by artists who stop by the studio’s hallowed halls. Today, they’ve got a feature from Lucero drummer Roy Berry called “My First Record.” There’s some stuff in there that you’d expect and a lot of stuff you wouldn’t. It’s a great look into the musical mind of Roy.
By noticed, I mean something more than the songs you hear in the air, sing at school, camp, church. It’s the first song I liked while I was hearing it and that song is “Country Road” by John Denver. I think I was in a car in Connecticut. I was very young…
The first full album bought for me was a Christmas gift and it wasn’t really the one I wanted. I wanted either the album byChristopher Cross with “Sailing” on it or the album by the J. Geils Band with “Centerfold” on it.
ATO Records has released the track listing for “Women and Work.” I’ve heard rough mixes of all but a couple of these and I think we’re all in for a treat.
1. Downtown (Intro)
2. On My Way Downtown
3. Women & Work
4. It May Be Too Late
6. Who You Waiting On?
7. I Can’t Stand To Leave You
8. When I Was Young
10. Like Lightning
11. Go Easy
Check out this short video promo for Lucero’s new record, “Women and Work.” Make sure you stick around until the end where you’ll get a look at what I bet is the artwork for the new album.
From their Facebook page:
As promised this week begins the onslaught of clips, teasers and previews of music (coming soon) and images from “Women & Work” - we’ll come back later today to let y’all know about some fun plans we have to look back at what’s brought us up to this point in Lucero’s musical history (hint: youtube is going to factor in). In the meantime have a look at the clip here. More soon…
Good news for you Nashville folks. From Lucero’s Facebook page:
For the folks in Nashville… Ben is gonna be sitting in with Cory Branan at the Basement on Monday January 9th. Show is from 7 to 10 and there is a $7 cover. Cory is playing at the Basement every Monday in January I believe and I think there might be some other guests involved so ya’ll should check it out if you’re around.