Album: 1372 Overton Park
Originally Released: 2009
I’ve come to think that the term ‘blue collar rock’ has now passed into the pantheon of Great American Musical Cliches. You usually find it being used in conjunction with rough-hewn bands from the rock n’ roll tradition, singing songs about marginalised folk eeking out a living in the American mid-west. In their best moments, these well worn characters have managed to scrape together the funds to buy a car and head off to the promise of a better life. At their worst, they’re brokering a shady deal in a gambling town, hoping that they won’t get shot before the night is out.
Of course Springsteen is the undisputed champion of the genre, and the bands that have burned brightly and then burnt out in his wake are many and varied. You could list them from 1973 all the way to 2011 and still probably only just touch the surface of those in his debt.
But as cliched as the stories – and the bands that tell them – might sound when summarised in those terms, there are still points of light on the horizon; sparks where groups of writers and musicians manage to make the plight of their protagonists sound raw and vital and wholly engaging. It seems to me that Memphis’ Lucero are one of those bands.
Sure, you can hear the sound of Springsteen in the 12 tracks that make up 2009’s 1372 Overton Park, the band’s sixth and latest album and major label debut. But there is so much more to be sucked up, swilled and swallowed therein. Check out the honking horn charts that are the core of soul fuelled boogie Sixes and Sevens for a start. If you don’t want to pick up your instrument, buy a truck for touring and start a band after that number has finished cookin’, there’s something vital missing from your DNA.
Skip back to the start of the album and opening track, Smoke. Soak up that insistent piano motif and feel the hairs on the back of your neck remember that they’re alive. Tune your ear to the swelling brass and blooming guitar strum and remind yourself of a time when rock music meant more to you than life itself. I guarantee that by 3:45, when that lead guitar starts to wail, you’ll be writing a letter to your younger self raving about this great band you’ve heard that hail from Tennessee.
And where has Ben Nichols been hiding all my musical life? The man sounds as though his voice was carved from the foundation stone of the world. An ancient, wise and craggy sounding instrument in it’s own right, it adds a vital edge to the Lucero sound, evoking as it does the mythical power of a time when molten magma was that much closer to the surface of our little planet, it’s core unstable and yet somehow more alive.
Yet still there is more to be discovered in the fissures of Lucero’s geology. There’s a punky squall to songs such as What Are You Willing To Lose and Sound of the City. Can’t Feel A Thing and Hey Darlin’ do you Gamble? are cut through with a country twang and closing track Mom evokes the kind of lap-steel soaked balladry that wouldn’t be out of place anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon.
‘Blue collar rock’? It would seem to be as reductive as it is cliched when you listen more closely to Lucero. How about ‘rock n’ roll’? It’s there in their lineage, but it still doesn’t quite cover it. ‘Country rock’? Get outta’ here. No way. In as useful as labels are to help us understand our musical landscape, this is nothing short of a ‘Punk n’ Soul’ revolution. A salty, swarthy mongrel of a record and one that you would do well to track down to store close to your heart.
Find out more about Lucero at: Lucero Music
A documentary about the band, Bright Stars On Lonesome Nights, is available now.