Monday, October 16, 2006

Lucero--Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (2006)

Album-Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers
Release Date-Sep 26, 2006
Label-Liberty & Lament
Genre/Style-Alternative Country-Rock/Indie Rock

Review-Lucero have never been short on Replacements comparisons, which are still very much valid on Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, but this time around they come off more like the Memphis version of Bruce Springsteen — in the best possible way. This comparison is heard straightaway in the opening "What Else Would You Have Me Be?," and the subsequent music largely continues its loose and jangly feel, many songs rocking out in the tradition of those on 2005's Nobody's Darlings. However, thanks to the contributions of auxiliary player Rick Steff on nearly every track — switching between organs, accordion, and piano — the overall record sounds fuller and more direct than most of Lucero's past work. These extra touches cause rousing songs like the shimmering "I Can Get Us Out of Here" to be more triumphant, and the whiskey-soaked and weary homecoming of "On the Way Back Home" more affecting with a lonely accordion softly lamenting in the background. As always, frontman Ben Nichols owns the type of hapless charm that can simultaneously break your heart and fix it, his weathered voice like that of a close friend over six strings. The prominent interplay of rugged guitar and drums makes for a wholly gripping listen on darker cuts like "Sing Me No Hymns" and "The Weight of Guilt." Both match up compellingly with the gruff Southern drawl of Nichols, who douses his hoarse delivery in a hard-edged defiance that sharply cuts through the unusually threatening air, especially in the latter song with its challenging repetition of "If you can bear no cross, you can wear no crown." Reflections of love, regret, and longing dominate — whether missing the girl while out on the road or making drunken promises when she's close enough to kiss — yet Lucero's leathery alt-country melodies never forget that stirring balance of tenderness and toughness, heartache and wonder. It's that balance that ultimately makes Lucero so damn likable, and their music so damn good that you can't help but want to dance, sing, and drink along right there beside them all night.


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