Haunted by Circumstance

On their dark new album, Lucero finds the lesson learned is to commit to a cause

Lucero; Photo by Dan Ball

These days there’s a certain sense of insurgency prevalent in some corners of the Americana world, a sound that took root in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when southern rock had a defined identity all its own and the outlaw movement, personified by Willie, Waylon, Kris and Cash, established its own subtext through defiance and damnation. Lately though, that insurgent attitude has taken on a populist perspective, finding common cause with the anger and frustration felt by practically everyone who pays attention to the news or finds themselves preoccupied by all the abject uncertainty.

Lucero of Memphis, TN, clearly relates to that desperation and despair, at least as far as the tack they’ve established in 20 years as a band together. Their new album boasts such titles as “Among the Ghosts” (also the title of the new album), “Bottom of the Sea,” “Everything Has Changed,” “Cover Me,” “For the Lonely Ones” and “Long Way Back Home,” each one providing ready indication that things are not exactly hunky dory in the wider world. They coach their music in their tenacious trappings with grit and bluster, leaving no doubt as to their unsettled attitude.

Of course they’re not the only ones in need of venting. Any number of artists — Jason Isbell, Billy Bragg, Jamey Johnson and Lucinda Williams, to name but a few — are inciting a call to arms, and even those that often seem reticent to rally the masses are unafraid to speak out against those responsible for the strife and struggle. That cranky attitude is indeed prevalent, and if frontman Ben Nichols seems particular gruff, he’s certainly not alone in wanting to rail against the unsettled situation overall. Like many younger artists, Lucero aspire to follow in the well trod footsteps that Springsteen, Mellencamp and Petty have ploughed all along, with raised fist and similarly suggestive sentiments.

Why Lucero isn’t better known is anyone’s guess, but that those have attained wider recognition often do so because they were able to define their cause. Anger and fury simply isn’t enough; in an era where injustice is rampant, it’s important to state one’s case and lend support to those with similar sentiments. The band gives the impression that they’re worked up over something, but it’s more about the veracity, the swagger and the attitude that gains them a place in the trenches.

So are Lucero rebels without cause? Perhaps. These days, it’s the way an artist defines him or herself that makes for the headiest impression, because in today’s world, image is everything. Granted, Lucero aren’t the only ones casting themselves with this particular motif, but buyers best beware that they’re not necessarily prone to pontificate on anything other than in a general way.

Nichols’ coarse vocals set the tone, and the band’s reckless abandon shines through. Nevertheless, it’s in those moments of remorse and reflection, that Lucero’s intent — or lack thereof — is fully revealed. Bravado and bluster only go so far when it comes to creating an indelible impression. Ultimately then, for all their ragged edges, this is a band whose depths of desire haven’t been fully mined.



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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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