For most of its excellent and exuberant duration, Lucero’s 2009 album 1372 Overton Park occupies the all-out-party-and-subsequent-fallout cycle of the band’s previous efforts. Bolstered by horns for the first time in its career, the Memphis-based sextet barrels through barroom punk anthems about the women and wonders that slipped through their fingers as booze slipped through their lips. It’s almost always in the present tense, with a promise that there will be more girls to woo and moments to screw up. But one song predicted the thematic sea change that hits on this year’s Women & Work.
“Can’t Feel a Thing” is a downtrodden ode that creeps to life with insistent guitars and woozy horns. Ben Nichols' forever gruff vocals bottom out to a defeated croak as he finds the party has ended, and looks back at a life now wasted and a wonderful woman who will never come back. “Nothing short of dying’s going to bring me peace,” he groans. “Well, I ain’t really worried ‘cause I can’t feel a thing.”
“It’s a feeling of loss or loneliness; the feeling of being lost and knowing which direction you’re going and looking back on where you’ve been and what it’s brought you to and where you thought you would have been,” Nichols says. There’s something that makes you feel better if you can actually put it into words, and even better if you can put it into words on top of some guitar chords that strike you emotionally. It gives you something to do, and it makes you feel better and it keeps you out of the bars. It keeps you from killing yourself with booze.”
Many of the characters on Women & Work seem destined for such deaths. Nichols sings largely of parties past, of friends long gone and of the solitary drinks that remain in their wake. The result is a razor-sharp sense of regret that would be almost unbearable if it weren’t paired with the brightest and boldest arrangements of Lucero’s career. The songs retain the resilient horns of 1372 and add backing vocals, barreling piano rolls and enormous E Street crescendos. Nichols says it’s the band’s Memphis-based influence finally bubbling to the surface.
“Memphis obviously has a bunch of musical history,” he explains. “The best music in the world was made there. You had Sun Studios, which was obviously Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash. You also had Stax Records and Hi Records; your Otis Redding recordings were made there, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, all that stuff. All that stuff is stuff I grew up on and some of my favorite musicians. You can’t top that stuff. The best you can do is hope to do it justice. We decided we’d make a modern Memphis rock ’n’ roll record. Like I said, we were hoping to do justice to that history and the awesome music that’s come before us.”
when: Biltmore Stage, Friday, 8:30 to 10 p.m.