With fall here, music writers are starting to ponder the choices for their lists of best new releases of the year. The more I think about mine, the more I can't see another record coming close to Lucero's latest, 1372 Overton Park which dropped yesterday.
Every other release I've listened to this year, after a few listens, I feel like I've heard all it has to say. While there may be a couple standout songs that stay with me, there’s not enough to keep me listening to it in full. However, 1372 is busting with 12 songs that will all most definitely stay with you, that will lure you in with their catchy sounds and keep you wanting to hear them over and over. And each time you hear it, you’ll discover something new that will make you fall in love just a little more. Be it one of lead guitarist Brian Venable’s great guitar hooks, the enthusiastic “Yeah, Yeah!” ad-lib in many of the songs by lead singer/guitarist Ben Nichols, or any of the horn arrangements from the legendary Memphis sax player Jim Spake, 1372 is a record that swirls and swings with wild abandon; so just try to resist the urge to dance.
"Wait, horns on a Lucero record," you ask? Yes, Virginia, there are horns and they provide the perfect complement to Lucero’s brand of country-fried punk. 1372 is like a celebration of love to all the ways Memphis has impacted Lucero’s music. From horns and bluesy keyboard riffs to the soul-tinged rock songs with gospel back up singers and the ghost of Elvis hovering nearby ("1372 Overton Park" in Memphis is actually the address of the band’s long-time practice space/residence that served as a karate dojo back in the day when Elvis Presley took lessons there), 1372 is so Memphis that it should have come packaged with a sample of Corky’s Smokin’ Hot.
As I listened through for the Nth time, something else struck me: Ben Nichols’s singing and songwriting have really gone up a level on this record. When I interviewed Nichols awhile back, we talked about his famous gravel –and-cigarettes timber and he said he’s noticed his voice has become stronger over the last 10 years with Lucero. It really shows on 1372, there’s a lot more clarity of Nichols' voice within the raspy growl. Maybe it was the result of writing songs around characters from a famous novel, but Nichols’ songwriting for this record has become much more emotional and alliterative, paying a name-check homage to loves (Replacements records) and likes (“The Devil And Maggie Chascarillo” is from Los Bros Hernandez’s Love And Rockets comics series). The songs are so visually described that you can’t help but picture the scenes he sets in your head, like mini-musical vignettes. And if you see the band live, keep an ear out for a great song that didn't make 1372, "Lonesome Dogtown Nights."
1372 is Lucero’s sixth release and their first since 2006’s Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers. During that time, members have had children, houses have been purchased, new members have been added, and big labels came a’calling. Is this a more mature Lucero? Probably not, I mean, this is Lucero after all. But maybe it is a Lucero who’s been able to find a happy medium between its road dog side and its hometown side, and celebrate the hell out of where they’re from and who they are now.
Give a Listen:
-The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo-Lucero
-Lonesome Dogtown Nights (live at Ottobar, Bmore, MD, 2-5-09)-Lucero
(Lucero's 'Memphis Revue & Ramblin Roadshow' tour kicks off tomorrow with a free show in Memphis, TN. See the rest of the dates here.)