Lucero's new album 'All A Man Should Do' is like good bourbon, and it's not just that the Alt-Country veterans hail from Tennessee. Like a shot of the good stuff, there's a faint sweetness amongst the sour taste of heartbreak and regret. Ultimately, there's a real fire in the belly of this record, a feeling every good whiskey or sour mash should give you. The grit in Ben Nichols' vocals isn't an accident; it feels like he's been waiting patiently to make this set of songs a reality, and it's certainly been worth that effort.
To take the analogy one step further, on first listen 'All A Man Should Do' sounds like a good time, it's only on closer inspection that the brass bolstered bravado reveals a deeper vein of sadness under the barroom bluster. Of course, you'd expect that level of expertise from a band that's been on the road for a decade and a half. Album number ten takes the sound developed by producer Ted Hutt over the previous two records and develops it subtly with more brass flourishes than in the past. There are nuances such as boisterous exuberance ('Young Outlaws') and melancholy ('My Girl & Me in '93') but it all boils down to a pretty consistent narrative, one of nostalgia.
In many ways, the majority of 'All A Man Should Do' is a love letter to the long southern nights of Lucero's hometown of Memphis. Perhaps it's also that warm reminiscing that makes the record so endearing. I have to hand it to the five-piece band that their cover of Big Star's 'I'm In Love With A Girl', which features Jody Stephens, justifies their gaze being in the rear view mirror. It takes the essence of the original and embellishes it with some beautiful harmonies. For once, it's also a cover version that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb either, it dovetails perfectly into the final song on the album.
Lyrically, Nichols crafts some beautiful lines such as: "The last few years were stitched with floss and pipe dreams, a quilt of poor intentions ravelled out" ('I Woke Up In New Orleans'). His world-weary delivery helps to drive the point home of course, but there's honesty that he's displaying which is unmistakeable. There's not an overwhelmingly sense of despair here though, these are all lessons learnt from the perspective of someone older and wiser. The conclusion of having to return to Memphis with a "picture and a song" during 'Went Looking For Warren Zevon's Los Angeles' sounds positively triumphant.
'All A Man Should Do' may act as a perfect summation of a trilogy of album's overseen by Hutt, but it also demonstrates that Lucero's cult status underplays their talents both musically and lyrically. Nichol's has imbued these songs with a surprising sense of subtlety and nostalgia, and like every good whiskey, you don't find a blend that good very often.
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