UNCUT - - New Albums -

THIRTY TIGERS 8/10 Memphis veter­ans make their most cin­e­matic al­bum yet. By Stephen Deusner

AS a band that calls Memphis home, Lucero have al­ways walked among the ghosts. Over nine records in nearly 20 years, they have found bound­less in­spi­ra­tion in the old sounds of the city, in its he­roes liv­ing and de­ceased, in the ru­ins of old mu­sic scenes long for­got­ten. Us­ing punk and coun­try as a foun­da­tion, they’ve ab­sorbed the lusty en­ergy of Sun Records rock, the strut of Beale Street blues, the tight R&B rhythms of Stax and Hi Records, and the ex­u­ber­ant songcraft of Big Star and The Scruffs. In ad­di­tion to work­ing with Jim Dick­in­son, Cory Branan, and John Murry, Lucero recorded their last hand­ful of records at Ar­dent, even us­ing that fa­mous ad­dress as the ti­tle for 2009’s 1372 Over­ton Park.

Those deep lo­cal roots may ex­plain the band’s dogged longevity. Formed when alt.coun­try was still the de­fault la­bel, they’ve man­aged to weather the South­ern rock and bar rock re­vivals of the 2000s, build­ing up an avid cult au­di­ence with­out the ben­e­fit of hit sin­gles, flashy videos, press cover­age, or even much in the way of la­bel sup­port. In 2005, Lucero were the sub­jects of a fawn­ing doc­u­men­tary ti­tled

Dream­ing In Amer­ica, which fol­lowed the band as they jumped from a floun­der­ing in­die la­bel to a ma­jor and posed the cru­cial ques­tion, Why isn’t this band big­ger? It’s re­mark­able that they have sur­vived for so long and al­most mirac­u­lous that Lucero have done some of their best work in the past few years, in par­tic­u­lar 2015’s All A Man Should Do. Add to that list their lat­est record,

Among The Ghosts. To record th­ese 10 new songs, Lucero hauled their gear down­town to 639 Madi­son Av­enue, bet­ter known as Sam Phillips Record­ing Ser­vice Stu­dio. The man cred­ited with in­vent­ing rock’n’roll opened the fa­cil­ity in 1960 af­ter out­grow­ing Sun Stu­dio, and dur­ing its hey­day it hosted ses­sions by Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wil­lie Mitchell and Char­lie Rich, among many oth­ers. There they worked with the very much alive pro­ducer/engi­neer Matt Ross-Spang, best known for his work with Margo Price, An­der­son East and Ja­son Is­bell. He fur­ther stream­lines their sound, high­light­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of ev­ery band mem­ber while leav­ing the songs rough around the edges.

Dis­card­ing the bar­room dra­mas that have pop­u­lated pre­vi­ous al­bums, Among

The Ghosts is a loose song cy­cle about sol­diers and cow­boys, wan­der­ers and out­laws, fathers and hus­bands. Th­ese are rough-hewn songs about men leav­ing home and reap­ing bit­ter har­vests, sung in Ben Ni­chols’ barbed-wire voice and en­livened by his keen eye for de­tail. Mat­ter-of-fact in his sen­ti­ments and sober in his de­liv­ery, he’s al­ways grav­i­tated to­ward the mas­cu­line lit­er­a­ture of Cor­mac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry and Ernest Hem­ing­way. But another sto­ry­teller looms over Among The Ghosts – namely, Jeff Ni­chols, Ben’s brother and a film­maker spe­cial­is­ing in well-ob­served South­ern tales like Take Shel­ter and Mid­night

Spe­cial. Michael Shan­non, the ac­tor who starred in both those movies, ap­pears on “Back To The Night”, de­liv­er­ing a spo­ken­word mono­logue that sounds like a voice sum­moned by séance. Sim­i­larly, one of the qui­etest and most af­fect­ing mo­ments on the al­bum is “Lov­ing”, an aching love song Ben penned for his brother’s 2016 movie of the same ti­tle. Per­haps more cru­cially, Among The

Ghosts is Lucero’s most cin­e­matic al­bum, as the band draw from their wide ar­se­nal of sounds to con­vey th­ese char­ac­ters’ wor­ries and re­grets. Lucero treat th­ese songs like short films. Rick St­eff’s or­gan swirls around the cho­rus of the ti­tle track, like the first cold winds of a dark storm ap­proach­ing. Brian Ven­able’s gui­tar casts sparks through­out “Cover Me”, a vi­o­lent gun­fight saga, and you can al­most smell the flint and gun­pow­der. And Roy Berry’s drums – al­ways the band’s se­cret weapon, the der­ringer hid­den in their dusty boot – pushes th­ese songs along at odd tem­pos, plac­ing beats where you don’t ex­pect them. He plays dou­ble-time on “Bot­tom Of The Sea” and gooses clos­ing track “For The Lonely Ones” at a reck­less pace. If th­ese songs are short movies, Berry shows us the sprock­ets in the film­strip. “Back home my wife and daugh­ter don’t know where I am tonight,” Ni­chols sings on the ti­tle track, “but soon I will find a

road that leads me home.” That’s the sad sit­u­a­tion all of his char­ac­ters face, but it’s Ni­chols’ own predica­ment as well, which lends th­ese third-per­son story-songs a first-per­son im­me­di­acy. Among The Ghosts is shot through with the melan­choly of miss­ing home, which is more than enough to keep them on the road another 20 years.

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