Call them alt-country, call them punk-country, call them whatever you want, but the reality is, Memphis based band, Lucero, are one of the most amazing bands in the current music scene. Bringing a refreshingly original blend of Southern rock, combined with influences from indie-rock as well as a dash of punk, Lucero represent everything that is bright about the future of music. Barely a decade into their career, they've released half a dozen records, all of which are worth owning, and have their next record slated for a summer 2009 release. Though we'll discuss much of the rest of their catalog later this year, it is Lucero's sophomore release, 2002's Tennessee, that presents everything that makes this up and coming band one of the best kept secrets in the current music scene.
The sound throughout Tennessee is raw and organic, yet their sound is "studio perfect" without sacrificing this feeling of musical honesty or purity. The production on the record is top notch, yet the band still brings the energy and emotion of a band playing in a bar or in someones backyard. As much influenced by Johnny Cash as they are by The Replacements, Lucero creates a beautiful blend of country music and lyrics, yet gives it an indie-pop sensibility. The band, who all hail from the state of Tennessee, understandably keep their "local" music style at the core of their sound, yet they are equally well versed with everything from The Cure to The Ramones. The overall Southern feel that pervades all of Tennessee is further enforced by the fact that North Mississippi All-Stars drummer, Cody Dickinson, was the lead producer on the record. Truly, there is no other band in today's music scene that makes music quite like Lucero.
With all of the songs on Tennessee being attributed to the entire group, it is clear that the band realizes that a complete group effort yields the best results. From meandering, melodic ballads to slow, sad laments, to bright, bouncy, rockers, Tennessee serves as proof that Lucero is capable of mastering every approach to their signature sound. Keeping a strong base in the southern and western sound, the band is not afraid to push into harder, more aggressive rock with songs like "The Last Song." Taking the distinctive "twang" of country, Lucero makes the sound their own by turning it up "to eleven." Though a majority of the songs on Tennessee are country-rockers, Lucero further shows their versatility by flawlessly incorporating everything from banjos to the airy, somewhat haunting, cello and piano of "Fistful Of Tears." Furthering this musical exploration, whether blending in violins or the unmistakable sounds of a Moog organ, Lucero are not afraid to attempt unconventional approaches to the country-western aesthetic.
Lucero frontman, Ben Nichols, has an absolutely perfect voice for the groups' sound. An ideal balance between country crooner and gritty rocker, Nichols' voice conveys the honesty and feeling of the "kid next door" sitting on the porch singing about his own troubles. Singing songs of love, loss, and drinking, the lyrics are all universally relateable and fit the music perfectly. The simple, down-home feeling is perhaps best displayed with the lyric, "...my hands won't stop shaking and that can't be good, I would forget you, if only i could...think about anything else, that slow dance at the end of the night..." On many of the more heartfelt songs, it is clear that the words are extremely personal, and Nichols delivers the vocals with an awe-inspiring sense of honestly and soul. Case in point is the bittersweet, yet undeniably brilliant, slide-guitar based, lamenting, "Ain't So Lonely." From his amazing, unmistakable voice to the beautifully honest lyrical content, Ben Nichols is poised to become one of the most prominent frontmen in history.
In an era of music that has become increasingly stagnant and predictable, bands like Lucero serve as proof that there is still the potential for amazing, original music to be made. Bringing a signature style of country-western based rock with the attitude of indie and punk, Lucero are a band that are accessible and enjoyable to music lovers across the spectrum. With the sensational singing of Ben Nichols at its core, Lucero's music is an absolute joy to experience time and time again. Pushing the southern-rock aesthetic into uncharted territory, Lucero have found their musical forte, and it is truly exciting to ponder the music they will make as their career progresses. Each of their records are solid both musically and lyrically, but their sophomore album, 2002's Tennessee, is truly a masterpiece and serves as a formidable introduction to this band that is destined for greatness.
Standout tracks: "Sweet Little Thing," "Ain't So Lonely," and "I'll Just Fall."