I recently saw the band Lucero in concert at Warsaw in Brooklyn, a cool venue in a former Polish community center where I had a kielbasa sandwich and some tasty pierogies during the show. I’m relatively new to Lucero,¹ a 20-year veteran band out of Memphis, that’s in the country/punk family and lately has been getting a lot of play on the Outlaw Country station on Sirius radio. When they hit the stage I had one first thought: This is one of the scuzziest looking bands I’ve ever seen. And as for the carton-of-cigarettes rasp of singer/bandleader Ben Nichols’ voice, scuzzy would be significantly spruced up.² But the song structures and discipline exhibited throughout their set was contradictorily quite clean and orderly. Appearances aside, this is no jam band; the first real guitar solo didn’t come until halfway through the 2-hour show and there was really only one more that followed it (both were good though). The songs are terse, balanced, and centered on the emotionally-charged, road-worn lyrics and spirit of Nichols, whose unrestrained between-song banter revealed not simply a speaking voice demonstrably like that of his singing, but a next-door-guy charm and thoroughly relatable personality with which the hugely responsive crowd was very much in tune.³ The band’s just-released new album, Among The Ghosts, is their 11th overall, but the first the 44-year-old Nichols has written since his marriage and the birth of his now 2-year-old daughter, subjects he spoke excitedly about repeatedly during the night, while also downing healthy cups of whiskey handed up to him from the crowd an equal number of times. As the band’s bio describes, for this album “Nichols has written songs that are cinematic short stories, steeped in Southern gothic lore, and representing a new South, as compared to the one that’s been mythologized.”
That’s certainly cool, and many of those type of tales were stirring to hear live – I’m looking forward to digging in deep as I work back through their catalogue – but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Lucero can also fire off some straight nasty tunes that have been described as a “synthesis of soul, rock, and country that’s distinctly Memphisian” (Memphisian? That really doesn’t sound right, but that’s what they say). They closed the show with this song, a simple three-chord rocker that also closes this current album. It’s quick and to the point – a few very short verses, a guitar part, and out in under 3-minutes (but played live without the saxophone as heard nicely accenting this recording). Efficient, catchy, and…yeah, damn attractive. You know what’s said about judging a book by its cover.
¹The group found their name in a Spanish/English dictionary. “Lucero” is variously translated as “bright star” or “morning star”. None of them speak Spanish.
²Earlier this month Paste Magazine had a feature on Nichols entitled “An Ode To Gravel-Throated Singing: How can something so technically wrong sound so emotionally right?”
³I later found a guy with the online handle ‘Stout Man’ who wrote “Ben, you are my idol, my legend. You make me cry with your music. The emotions that I don’t find in life I find in your songs.” Wow.