There aren’t many bands that can meld americana, pub rock and soul quite as effortlessly as Memphis’ own Lucero. Frontman Ben Nichols’ whiskey soaked vocals, tales of lost evenings and hard drinking once again take centre stage on the bands’ latest offering ‘Women and Work’. Their brand of Memphis soul meets country rock has garnered them an ardent fanbase both state-side and here. Returning with a string of sold out UK dates, including a 4 night stint at the Brixton Windmill, showed that the demand for their rough around the edges rock had only grown more fervent in their absence.
While their powerful live performances and easy going cool have helped them gain cult status in the UK, on their latest studio output ‘Women and Work’ Lucero tread familiar ground. Devilish women, heartbroken men and good times all feature. No, this album doesn’t reinvent the wheel, at times it feels rather predictable and yet it’s a testament to Lucero’s competent musicianship and Nichols’ stark song writing that ‘Women and Work’ still has notable highlights.
As an album it is thoroughly listenable, if a little unexciting. There are moments when it seems, sadly, to become a ‘paint-by-numbers’ country rock affair. At it’s worse their is a consistent nagging that perhaps Lucero, after 15 years as a band, are running out of ideas, spontaneity and spark. Whereas ‘1372 Overton Park’ signified a genuine musical leap forward for the band, with the introduction of a horn section, ‘Women and Work’ feels like it could easily have been taken from those sessions with very little growth on display. Lucero’s trademark soulful swagger, earnest lyrics and forlorn melodies are certainly on show with tracks such as ‘It May Be Too Late’, Nichols is true to form emphatically stating “I could get better, or I could get drunk” proving while his heart may be in the right place the rogue in him is never far behind. ‘Who You Waiting On?’ and ‘On My Way Downtown’ are confident and brash slabs of country rock, all perfectly good, just a little lacking. But don’t fret just yet, ‘I Can’t Stand To Leave You’ is the track that offers most hope that Lucero’s best days are still ahead. ’I Can’t Stand To Leave You’ with its dark undertones, persistent riffs and frenetic guitars adding an urgency that is all too obviously missing from the majority of the record.
Lucero consistently prove live and on record that no one does bar rock romance better than them. While ‘Women and Work’ has its shortcomings, Nichol’s homespun tales of unrequited love are as emotive as ever and as a band they’ve become an incredibly tight unit. Robert Frost wrote in ‘The Road Not Taken’ “Two Roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”. I for one hope Lucero take Frost’s words to heart on their next record and take the path less travelled.