The Nick Luca Trio – Little Town

The Nick Luca Trio
Little Town

Nick Luca has helped to oversee the birth of many great musical conceptions during his time working as an adroit studio engineer at Tucson, Arizona’s renowned Wavelab Studios since 1996. Recording with such towering talents as Giant Sand, Calexico, Bill Janovitz (Buffalo Tom), Evan Dando (The Lemonheads), Neko Case, and The Amor Belhom Duo has in turn encouraged Luca to re-assess the value of his own musical stock by forming The Nick Luca Trio – the first band in his on/off career to be finely-tuned to his own vision. With bassist Jim Kober and drummer Chris Giambelluca in tow, Luca squeezed time into the swollen Wavelab schedules to lay down Little Town in a matter of weeks at the back end of 2001. Now, having inked a deal with London’s Loose Records (past/present UK-home to The Handsome Family, Giant Sand, M Ward, and Neko Case), we finally have a chance to wrap our earlobes around The Nick Luca Trio’s first officially released product.
Whilst Luca’s studio clients have so often harnessed his talents to capture an uncluttered and untreated live sound, the NLT are far more about playing the studio as an instrument. So with the basic recordings proficiently cut more or less live as a three-piece, Luca left himself space and time to soak the material in melodious studio coatings. This has meant Luca self-adding archaic drum machines, string samples, luminous synths, slow-groaning organs, classical/jazz piano, as well as inviting Giant Sand/Calexico buddies (Howe Gelb, Joey Burns, and John Convertino) to add vocals, cello, vibes, and accordion here and there. In doing so, Luca has opened up the rustic country-tinged Tucson/Wavelab sound to an influx of more urbanite ideas.
The clavinet-led cyber-funk of “Past Away” could therefore be a Money Mark rarity or Stevie Wonder in less-saccharine mode. The prowling “Rely On Goodbye” curves classical piano lines around Latino percussion and low-ploughed organs (like Calexico backing Tom Waits), whilst the ominous instrumental “Mind Walk” invokes the pleasing thought of a vocal-less Massive Attack (i.e. sapped of lyrical pretence). Luca saves the best till last however, as “Back Again,” conjures the image of Burt Bacharach sat in a late-night lounge bar tinkling the ivories with the ghost of the late jazz impresario Thelonious Monk guiding his hands.
Miraculously, even though the musical boundaries continuously blur and bend, Luca doesn’t stretch the sounds beyond the realm of the trio’s abilities or at the expense of album-focused flow. The eclecticism is kept in check by a collective brooding mood, that sees Luca emerge as a songwriting equal to the bulk of his studio employers. Consequently Luca saturates Little Town‘s songs in the disposition of a downcast nocturnal thinker, pacing dimly lit city streets recalling unhinged ex-girlfriends (“Rely On Goodbye”), contemplating childhood nightmares (“Black Heartened Beast”), and observing Tucson nightlife (“Little Town”) along the way. Moreover Luca’s languid whispery tones are perfect for subtly hinting at the latent dread within his words.
With an album of astute and ambitiously arranged late-night narratives, Nick Luca has proved that he’s neither a chancer nor a bandwagon-jumping alt. country careerist but just another ridiculously talented member of the Giant Sand family-tree coming of age and stepping out of the homestead. Long may he roam.