Lucero, “Should’ve Learned by Now” (Thirty Tigers)
It would be selling Lucero short to say the Memphis band’s new album feels like what you’d take away from a visit to the Lucero store. As in, you know just what you want, you pay your money for it, and you walk away satisfied with another tasty set of rock ‘n’ roll comfort food.
“Should’ve Learned by Now” is more than that, for sure, but it’s that, too. And yet the reason it tastes good is because it comes from a band that has polished its sound over more than two decades but still has too many rough edges to come off as complacent or ordinary.
Sure, Lucero sounds less like a garage band than it once did. But the serrated edges of Brian Venable’s guitar-playing and the gravel in frontman Ben Nichols’ voice prevent it from slipping into the over-polished category. It also helps that Nichols writes compelling songs and growls them out with energy and conviction.
Nichols’ Arkansas roots may account for why the band’s music tends to land in the alt-country bin, but his songwriting owes more to the Replacements and Tom Petty than anything coming out of Nashville. That’s obvious from the first cowbell and electric guitar riff on the opener, “One Last F.U.” It continues into the second cut, “Macon if We Make It,” a song about a road trip through Georgia during a hurricane that rides the gale-force energy of Venable’s electric guitar.
Other cuts nudge keyboardist Rick Steff to the forefront. “She Leads Me” and “Raining for Weeks” both show off a band making the most of each member’s ability to drive a song forward.
Plenty of aging rockers boast enough true believers to sell records and make a living even if they’re mailing it in, and Lucero has a dedicated following. But Nichols is too good of a songwriter, and this band is still having too much fun to settle for anything ordinary.
The new stuff is good enough that the loyal followers will stay, and any newcomers who stray into Lucero’s orbit will discover a still-underrated band that just keeps serving up good music.
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