Lucero: That Much Further West

Lucero: That Much Further West

By all rights, Lucero frontman Ben Nichols shouldn't be as good as he is. He's a Memphis punk singer who reportedly turned to alt-country because it was easier to play, and he's chosen to wander toward the increasingly fallow, dirgey side of the genre, where self-absorbed mopes impose unearned misery on overprivileged record buyers. But Nichols' opportunism mainly demonstrates an implicit understanding of how roots-rock can express emotions that hardcore punk can't, and with his gravelly vocals and gift for imagery, he gives Lucero a vivid personality. For its third album, That Much Further West, Lucero picks up the pace while allowing itself more room to roam. The harder surface is apparent on "Hate And Jealousy," with its near-metallic central guitar riff, but even that song drops its fists to let Nichols moan, as does "Mine Tonight," with its shifting tempos and guitar sounds ranging from spooky weaves to rough stabs to power jangle. Aside from the breakbeat-aided ballad "When You Decided To Leave," the arrangements on That Much Further West are fairly organic, as though Lucero decided to play loud or soft or fast or slow on the spot, cueing off Nichols' Darkness On The Edge Of Town-era Springsteen moods. The looseness can be exciting, but it's also the source of Lucero's most significant flaw. Nichols' voice sounds singular and arresting at first, but its deep, gruff character makes every song sound similar, and Lucero overuses the rock-dynamics trick in which the band drops out suddenly, leaving only the guitar and the vocals. But just about any given song on That Much Further West makes for a concentrated dose of bloody sincerity. Even the raging "Tonight Ain't Gonna Be Good" sounds like rockabilly remixed to emphasize the desperation more than the joy.

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