Lucero began its career nearly 15 years ago as a punk band in Memphis, though its version of punk bore prominent strains of roots and Americana. It didn’t quite fit the alt-country template, but it didn’t fit punk’s either—and in its hometown, which built its reputation on rock’s earliest days and soul music, Lucero didn’t quite fit in either. Part of it came from simple rebellion against the Memphis sound—who wants to sound like everyone else in town?—but eight albums in, Lucero has fully embraced its hometown’s history, for better and worse.
Women & Work is the band’s first release for ATO Records, home to kindred spirits like My Morning Jacket, Drive-By Truckers, and Alabama Shakes, following a one-album stint with the majors for 2009’s excellent 1372 Overton Park. That was the first Lucero album to incorporate horns, and they reappear on Women & Work, the most conspicuous homage to the Memphis sound pioneered by the city’s Stax label. The press materials call Women & Work a love letter to Memphis, and the cliché fits; the album’s synthesis of soul, rock, and country is distinctly Memphisian.
Over the past couple of albums, Lucero has grown more comfortable wearing its regional influences, and on Women & Work, the band wears them on its sleeve. “On My Way Downtown” and “Women & Work” are classic-style rave-ups, balanced by ballads like “It May Be Too Late” and “Sometimes.” Lucero almost embraces its roots too much, as the song topics hit all the requisite marks: the “I’m a lost soul” lament (“It May Be Too Late”), the “Your man don’t treat you right” come-on (“Who You Waiting On?”), the “I can’t survive without you” wallow (“I Can’t Stand To Leave You”), the song about how things used to be different (“When I Was Young”), etc.
It all sounds familiar, and that’s the problem with Women & Work: Lucero has never sounded so assured or less distinct. Although Lucero has always been at home playing in a bar, Women & Work has more of bar-band feel—granted, a really good bar band, but something generic is creeping into Lucero’s sound. As solid as Women & Work is, it could also herald the beginning of something less interesting.