Lucero – That Much Further West

Lucero
That Much Further West

I didn’t want to like Lucero. Truth be told, alt-country isn’t my thing. Twang and Southern accents and lap steel – it all feels old and harsh to my ears. It takes a rare band that puts more “alt” than country into their style to win me over, and then came Lucero, which makes no bones about being country. Yet the band’s first album somehow won me over, and I was enamored with Lucero’s Southern country mixed with a kind of punk-rock attitude. I snapped up its successor, Tennessee, but this, the band’s third release and first with Tiger Style, is perhaps the band’s most consistent. I’ve probably started and erased this review a dozen times, and while I didn’t want to start by saying I didn’t want to like Lucero, it’s true.
Because, frankly, Lucero isn’t the least embarrassed about playing country. But when these musicians started out, they wanted to piss off hardcore kids, to play country for a punk crowd, and the indie- and punk-rock attitude infuses their music. Maybe that’s what makes it so good. Singer Ben Nichols has plenty of twang to his voice, and the band uses a fair amount of acoustic guitar and even lap steel, yet each and every release by Lucero has been amazing. Despite losing founding member Brian Venable, That Much Further West is not a let-down, even if the band may have toned down its country tendencies with a new label at hand.
The basic themes to Lucero’s songs, though, are still the same: drinking, love, driving lonesome roads, and the like. A band that once sang “My best girl by far is my guitar” can never truly stray from country, but there’s a nice dose of American rock on this release, adding some Springsteen, some Pogues, and some Tom Waits to the Wilco- and Jayhawks-esque alt-country.
If one thing has changed with this release, besides the label, it’s the edge new guitarist Todd Gill brings. The electric guitar mixes beautifully with the acoustic and contrasts perfectly with Nichols’ voice. That’s apparently on the melancholy title track, the rootsy rock approach of “Mine Tonight,” and the high-energy “Hate and Jealousy,” giving the latter the bitter edge the song’s theme requires. “Coming Home,” besides representing another quintessential American theme, is a stellar track, the edgy guitar complimenting Nichols’ country feel.
The organ and traditional feel of “Across the River” is classic American rock and vintage Lucero, and strings help give a down-home feel to the personal storytelling feel of “Joining the Army.” By contrast, “Tears Don’t Matter Much” is just a purely traditional rock song, classic in genre and catchy as hell. A bit more modern in approach, “When You Decided to Leave” uses a subtle drum machine beat behind soft but rich acoustic guitar and vocals for an interesting feel that I’m split on.
Sure, I’m biased. I loved this band’s previous two albums, even as I kept them like a secret. In part, maybe I didn’t want to admit my love for this country-rock band, or maybe I wanted Lucero to remain a secret. But these musicians don’t make any bones about their country leanings, about their country themes, their varied influences, and I’m glad they’re getting more widespread acclaim. Lucero certainly deserves it. This is the best album yet by a brilliant but often-overlooked band.