I was first introduced to Lucero in 2001 when I saw them open a string of dates for the North Mississippi Allstars in Colorado. Prior to hearing them for the first time, I was told to expect “Jay Farrar meets emo”. I found this description to not only be fairly accurate, but musically, it was wildly successful in execution. The band’s self-titled debut and sophomore effort Tennessee were quality releases, but the third album That Much Further West is where they really knocked it out of the park. Fourth album Nobody’s Darlings capitalized on all that was right on the previous effort and the future was looking mighty bright for Lucero.
I can’t put my figure on what exactly it was that prevented me from loving their fifth album Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, but there was something that held that release back and it fell far short of the albums that preceded it. The band’s sixth album 1372 Overton Park saw the band introduce a horn section to their music and the results were not impressive. This brings us to their latest release Women & Work. Unfortunately, Lucero has decided that the direction they went in on their previous effort was a good one and are giving their fans more of the same. Gone are the alt-country gone emo songs of the band’s early career and instead we are presented with an album that sounds like it was heavily influenced by the film The Committments. In other words, it sounds like Lucero watched that film repeatedly and said to themselves “Hey, let’s go for that white boy soul thing, but we’ll play originals instead of covers and throw a little bit of our Southern roots in there!” Sadly, the results are craptacular. Another hindrance to success is the decline of lead vocalist/guitarist Ben Nichol’s pipes. I don’t know if it is the years of swilling whiskey and endless time spent on the road, but his voice has lost a lot of the power and emotion that came through on their previous albums.
I am of the belief that one should never criticize a band for letting their sound evolve and grow, but for Lucero, they’ve taken a left when they needed to take a right. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they get turned around on their next outing.