Sound: Memphis-based Lucero is a fascinating paradox as far as musical genres go. On one hand, you have their vibrant punk mentality, which comes across most prominently in no-frills lyrics and frontman Ben Nichols' gritty vocal delivery. In fact, if you removed those two elements and left the instrumentation to stand on its own, Lucero's style seems more at home among artists like Van Morrison or Bruce Springsteen. The band's new album 1372 Overton has bolder arrangements all the way around, including a horn section charted by Jim Spake (Al Green, John Hiatt, Cat Power). Even with more epic productions, there's an earthiness that remains and Lucero doesn't abandon its roots.
That inevitable word catchy comes to mind when listening to Lucero's latest songs. The general format is not necessarily anything new, but there's still something incredibly likeable about them. Granted, Nichols' voice is an acquired taste, and he broaches on sounding a bit like The Muppet's Rowlf at times but that raw quality gives the songs more character in the long run. The opening track The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo delivers an immediate injection of energy and you could easily hear Van Morrison ooze out of it. They pull out all the stops for the opener, as it features both incredible piano and horn sections.
For as many feel-good numbers as there are on 1372 Overton, Lucero has also included what can best be called cry-in-your-beer ballads. The tempo might be taken back and instrumentation stripped, but tracks like Can't Feel A Things and Darken My Door still feel right at home in a smoky bar. Goodbye Again is a ballad with a bit more of a vintage 60's soul vibe, which is highlighted by the Otis Redding-like horn parts.
Lucero's Memphis roots come through subtly, but it seems like a general appreciation of straightforward rock and roll trumps any country influence. Sixes and Sevens channels The Rolling Stones (there's an ooh-ooh section that is slightly like Sympathy For The Devil), while Smoke is a hybrid of Bruce Springsteen and U2. Lucero never veers too off the general rock and roll path, and for the most part it's probably better that way for the band. // 8
Lyrics: The new music on 1372 Overton features a good deal of introspection and heartbreak, but songs like Johnny Davis and Mom follow more of a storyteller's format. While Johnny Davis feels like it's all been written before (probably because the name Johnny is a favorite among lyricists), Mom relays a more genuine, honest message. Nichols is basically talking to his mother about how he still appreciates her efforts and how he knows his place (Mama, we're still your boys) even after all of his mess-ups. // 8
Overall Impression: Lucero draws on a variety of influences under the rock and roll umbrella, and it all gels together well on the new album. The addition of a vibrant horn section was a brilliant idea on the band's part, as it provides them with more of a vintage style that seems oddly appropriate. Lucero will always sound a little rough around the edges for some general audiences and not callous enough for a punk crowd, but in a fickle music world that might just work to their favor. // 9