The Lucky Ones – S/T

Ahhhh, alt-country goodness crossed with jangly rock songs, all produced by David Singer… Those facts alone sent my expectations into a wet-dream tizzy over this self-titled release by The Lucky Ones. Of course, the problem is that expectations can be a bitch sometimes, since mine usually tend to get in the way of my obtaining an unblemished opinion of whether a band’s music is a worthwhile venture based on its own merit (and not my preconceived dispositions).
Well, my expectations got the best of me on this one. Truth be told, this release by The Lucky Ones features some damned amazing music. However, my brain was convinced that this disc was going to be the second coming of Our Lord or something, so to be honest, I have to say that at first I felt a bit disappointed and flat about this disc. In all honesty, though, The Lucky Ones have some truly superb material, and while the brightest spots vastly outshine the average material here, I can’t call anything on this disc painful to listen to in any way.
The majority of the stuff offered up on the disc is fairly catchy, though the band often straddles the line between ‘pop sensibility’ catchy and ‘piano-laced honky-tonk foot-stomping’ catchy. This, however, is a line that the band toes very well, managing to toss in a touch of both without leaning the disc too heavily in either the ‘pop’ or ‘country’ genre (which, to me, is the mark of the truest definition of ‘alt-country’). The slower material, however, is really country-tinged, though thankfully not in that annoyingly drippy, pedal steel, twangy “My dog just got run over” way that seems to make my ears cringe.
…So yeah, all 12 tracks are shamelessly listenable, and in my case they inspired quite a bit of head-bobbing and toe-tapping during the few workdays it took me to dissect The Lucky Ones. I still can’t help but notice that certain songs just stand out light years away from others, though – like the album-opening “The Marquee,” a loose, mid-paced rocker with a killer bass part and a prominent piano rhythm. Of course, the best part of the song comes when the guitar-slinging lead rhythm line darts in over the rest of the mix, giving the song a more ‘action-packed’ vibe overall. The very Whiskeytown-ish “The Long Goodbye” features some killer jangling rhythm guitar lines, though the disc’s highest point comes with the fifth track, “Emily,” which sounds like a bastard love child of Paul Westerberg and Ryan Adams. The track opens with a straight piano piece before the rhythm kicks in, led by an absolutely killer lead guitar part. “Emily” is a note-for-note notice of what works about The Lucky Ones, as an airtight rhythm section meshes with jangling rhythm guitars and loose, free sounding quickie guitar leads to create the perfect backdrop for scratchy, whiskey-and-cigarette fueled vocals. In a word – Wow.
“Lonely Heart’s Waltz” is the first really solid slow number, a heartbreaking track with a beautifully understated piano track that compliments sparse guitars and accordion flares. The vocals on this track are achingly gruff, yet starkly pretty at the same time, and the restrained guitar solo in the track adds to the painfully emotional tone of the song. The other really amazing, slowed-down track is “Blue Down in Bucktown,” a six-minute-plus affair about – surprise, surprise – heartbreak. The lead guitar fills that follow the choruses in “Bucktown” are so simple yet so effective in the context of the song, and the tone is made even more somber by the fact that the vocals for this track are clear and strong (though restrained), showing swells of emotion without getting too loud about it, making lyrics such as “Just a Christmas card friend / That’s what I am now / A Christmas card friend / That’s what I’ve become” sound even more resounding than they read in the liner notes.
While the other seven tracks aren’t as noteworthy, the songwriting and guitar work showcased throughout this entire album shows The Lucky Ones have pulled off a rarity in producing a CD that can be listened to as more than just background music from beginning to end. I wish my preconceptions hadn’t somewhat ruined this listening experience for me, but still, even with ridiculously high expectations, I was still pretty blown away by four tracks on this disc. Good stuff for the alt-country inclined.