Review : Lucero - 1372 Overton Park
SpinAcross five albums, Lucero have crammed tales of beautiful losers and dreams unfulfilled into torrid bar-band rock and gruff alt-country ballads. On their sixth, the band's sound finally matches their romantic ambitions. Audacious horn arrangements from Al Green sideman Jim Spake burst out of nearly every song as organs shimmer, pianos flash, and the rhythm section swings with surprising dexterity. Making the most of his sandpaper croak, frontman Ben Nichols infuses these tunes with both the we-gotta-get-outwhile-we're-young energy of a Born to Run–era Bruce and the knowledge that, at 35, he ain't that young anymore....full text
Allmusic1372 Overton Park might be Lucero's major-label debut, but the Memphis-based band retains all of their rough-and-tumble indie charms. Gruff-voiced frontman Ben Nichols still sings about people with dead-end lives: the type of characters whose "heroes are the losing kind." But Nichols definitely finds ways to make these troubled souls compelling. The disc starts off with a powerful quartet of hard-rockin' tunes about hard-livin' folks. The album opener "Smoke" plays like a darker version of "Born to Run." Instead of kids holding onto some hope that they can escape to something better, the couple in "Smoke" are two pretty hopeless people "running out of time" and looking to "just get out alive." The Replacements-ish "What Are You Willing to Lose?" talks about trying to persevere when you're "going down in flames." It also introduces Nichols' backhanded sense of romance when the protagonist tries to win over a girl with an "I'd try to make you hate me just to try and make you mine" approach. "Sounds of the City" offers a slightly more upbeat attitude to romance. The album's most rousing track finds Nichols sweet-talking a girl ("all these streets lead me always back to you.") although he really just needs "something to believe (to) take away the pain." He slides back toward a more nihilistic point of view in "Can't Feel a Thing," which contains the great anti-romantic line: "She asked me if I loved her and I showed her my tattoo."
As if it hasn't been evident on earlier efforts, this disc demonstrates how Lucero, along with bands like the Hold Steady and Marah, blend together Replacements raucousness and Springsteen streetwise storytelling, and create something both familiar yet also unique. Throughout the album, Nichols spins colorful tales of lost youths ("The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo") and downtown desperadoes ("Johnny Davis") that are vividly detailed. He is also very capable at dialing down the mischievous misadventures and expressing some truly honest emotions. The album's second half is highlighted by these quieter numbers. The bittersweet love song "Goodbye Again" ranks up there with the work of Warren Zevon, as Nichols essays a tumultuous relationship where the man isn't strong enough to cut ties with a girl whom he knows isn't good for him. "Darken My Door" and "Hey Darlin' Do You Gamble" are two twangy tunes that again pick up Nichols' less-than-sunny view of love and relationships. In both "love" songs, the protagonist pleads for a girl to "take a chance on" him, and that love is more of a gamble than a sure thing. While the disc begins with a blast of "Smoke," it concludes more contemplatively with "Mom," a moving ode to a mom that's both an apologia and a thank you. Nichols' ability to bring a realness to the characters in his wild, rocking story-songs, as well as his lower-key, more intimate tunes, goes a long way in making these songs connect with the listener....full text
PopmattersLucero hail from Memphis, although you’d be hard-pressed to figure that out from their past five albums. Loud, raucous, unrelenting, Lucero have often sounded like the hard-charging product of an indie haven like Minneapolis rather than the city that gave birth to Stax Records. It hasn’t helped that Lucero established their country/indie/rock/punk template early on and seemed content to make only slight refinements to their sound, rather than ever seriously hammering their way out of the box they’d built for themselves. There wasn’t much that was fluid or flexible about the Lucero sound, and the experience of listening to Lucero increasingly consisted of waiting for unique bright spots to flicker amidst the sameness of the band’s guitar maelstrom.
The impression that Lucero held more promise than we were actually seeing was only heightened when frontman Ben Nichols’ 2009 solo effort, The Last Pale Light in the West, offered up seven delicate, literate character studies based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian. Nichols showed that he could write from a persona rather than his own personal experience, and that his ragged voice (and strong lyrics) didn’t need to be hidden behind walls of guitars.
Well, with 1372 Overton Park, the walls of guitars are still there, but there’s also a Memphis horn section, female backing vocals, plentiful lead guitar, piano, a few sensitive ballads, and plenty of southern hip swagger. And oh what a difference those things make, without losing the sense that this is still a Lucero record in the best sense of the word....full text
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