It speaks a lot to how well-loved in both punk and Americana scenes that Lucero are that they’ve managed to keep it going for two decades. Even while being sonically more indebted to the rootsy, country-influenced sound bred into them through their Tennessee home, their origins at punk shows and dogged commitment to touring have continued to resonate, to the point where there’s still so much respect for them that can be found in both scenes.
This may come as something of a surprise for anyone unfamiliar with them; after all, Lucero have never really crossed over with any one huge song, nor have they really had that one breakout moment to encourage a wider audience to sit up and take notice. But then again, that’s kind of the point. Lucero are not a flashy band in the slightest, instead trading in subtlety and atmosphere for the best possible results. Just take Among The Ghosts for instance, in which even the most remote sign of punk in Lucero’s arsenal has been stripped away, but makes way for a much more musically rich, weathered listen that feels like a band aging gracefully and growing into their own more and more.
And a lot of that comes from how great the movement is from punk / Americana difference-splitters to a resoundingly straightforward country act, and how Lucero are able to slip into this new guise almost perfectly. Ben Nichols’ vocals are already perfect for such a style with their weathered, earthy rasp, but with the focus on sun-baked, understated guitar work and steady percussion and bass on Bottom Of The Sea and Cover Me (and even what feels like something approaching a honky-tonk step on Everything Has Changed), the rugged imperfections are what make this album shine. It’s not exactly immediate, particularly in a stripped-back cut like Loving, but regardless, Lucero are still able to capture the lived-in feeling that always does remarkably well with both country and Americana in this vein.
Even in the writing, what might come across like blatant plays for a sense of timelessness and appreciation for storytelling classicism feels genuine, and it’s kept simple enough to highlight the tandem workings of straight emotional resonance and the thousand-yard stare that comes through in Nichols’ voice. And it’s not as if this is revelatory content at all, from weary, sentimental road songs like the title track and To My Dearest Wife to more traditional ballads like Always Been You and Loving, but the way its all presented in its open, heavy-hearted manner is borderline masterful, with a wistfulness that Lucero have really endeavoured to capture well.
And simply by the nature of what this album is – a fairly low-key, small-scale country album – it’s likely to go ignored by far too many. But on the other side of the coin, Lucero are very much a cult act as it is, and that’s an environment that albums like this play best in, where the progression is obvious but done so to accentuate an older, wiser band, rather than a harsh pivot to the mainstream. And there’s enough here to appreciate the classic intentions of Among The Ghosts, staying away from trends or even much modernity, but thriving in its execution all the same.
For fans of: Chuck Ragan, Brian Fallon, Jason Isbell
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Among The Ghosts’ by Lucero is released on 3rd August on Thirty Tigers.