Lucero is led by singer/songwriter Ben Nichols, whose voice has been compared to people like Kurt Cobain and Tom Waits, but to me he sounds like "The Boss" after his voice has been put through a meat grinder. (I mean that as high praise!) Nichols' raw voice is perfect for the drunken, rowdy rock that makes up Lucero's sophomore album Tennessee. Nichols is joined by John Stubblefield on bass, Brian Venable on guitar and Roy Berry on drums.
This album is mixture of rough bar songs that make you want to go out and drink your sorrows away and softer country songs to cry yourself to sleep to. This combination of high-energy country/rock songs and softer country ballads makes Lucero a new member of a group of artists such as Uncle Tupelo, Johnny Cash and The Allman Brothers Band who masterfully fused these two sounds together to make great music.
Songs like "Nights Like These," "Chain Link Fence," and "The Last Song" are great examples of how Lucero is able pack in the heavy emotions of love and loss from country music and keep up the intensity by mixing in the energy of rock n' roll. This combination makes you want to learn the lyrics as fast as possible so you can scream along. The songs "I'll Just Fall," "Darby's Song" and "Into Your Eyes" show how Lucero is not just about loud guitars and high energy. These songs highlight Lucero's ability to play softer and slower songs and show that they do not have to hide behind distortion. "Darby's Song" stands out on the record because it is a very personal song about a promise the author made to take care of a little girl who lost her mother. The song is very powerful because it is written in the form of a letter to the little girl. It is also sung at a higher pitch so you can hear the extra effort it takes for Nichols to hit the really high notes in the song. This strain in Nichols' voice adds to the emotion brought to the song by the lyrics.
Lucero is one of the few bands that I have come across that are actually able to capture the energy of their live shows and translate that onto their albums. The fact that the band is always on tour helps with the formation of their sound. In 2002 they did more than 200 shows and they plan on doing at least that many shows or more this year. They're basically always on tour.
It was on tour where the members of Lucero became good friends with Luther and Cody Dickinson who are the founding members of The North Mississippi All Stars. Luther or Cody would come out and sit in on Lucero's show and play the lap steel guitar. This friendship lead Lucero to the recording studio of Memphis legend and Sun Records producer Jim Dickinson who is the father of Luther and Cody. Since then Lucero has recorded both of their albums at the Dickinson's Zebra Ranch Studio. Dickinson earned legendary status in Memphis for his work with music icons such as Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones. Dickinson also was a big part of Bob Dylan's 1997 Grammy-winning album Time Out Of Mind. Most recently he has received praise for his work on the albums of his two sons' band The North Mississippi All-Stars.
Lucero is currently finishing up a run of New England cities and they will be heading back down south at least until the end of May. They also recently went through a lineup change where the guitarist and founding member Brian Venable left the band. Todd Gill, the guitarist from Fayetteville's The Paper Hearts, has replaced Venable as the new guitarist and has been touring with Lucero for the past two months. If you haven't been able to catch them in a show yet I would not worry too much, they will probably be back very soon because they never stop.
Sean Stapleton is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.