For nearly two decades Memphis alt-country outfit Lucero has been bending sway to the whims of a fickle music industry, the elusive brass ring just out of reach — sometimes by inches, other times by miles. But like the best road bands, Lucero has forged their own path — one that doesn’t rely on the traditional formula of radio single + opening for a really popular band = fame and fortune.
In April 1998, Ben Nichols (vocals, guitar), Roy Berry (drums) and John Stubblefield (bass) started a band and christened it Lucero (Spanish for “bright star”). Off the beaten path, and tucked away in Memphis, the trio worked on their sound — the brash effervescence of The Replacements, tempered with the drunken poetry of The Pogues and filtered through old-fashioned country music. It was an immediately likeable sound that got the band noticed, albeit mostly as Uncle Tupelo bandwagon jumpers. The addition of Brian Venable (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Rick Steff helped to round out Lucero’s sound, as did the miles and miles of road shows.
In any number of endearing and heartbreaking ways, Lucero has written about life on the road since the band began; the call of the road, the freedom to pick up and go, the undeniable pull of a good woman — and then pitting each against the other for the ultimate conflict. It is the common denominator that links their entire body of work, from their 2001 self-titled debut, and 2009’s game changing horn-and-Hammond-driven effort, 1372 Overton Park, to their new album, All a Man Should Do. There comes a time in life when every man, even the Peter Pan-types with a guitar in one hand and a beer in the other, decides that it’s time to grow up. From start to finish, the songs on All a Man Should Do reflect the struggle owning up to that decision. For Nichols, growing up seems to mean letting go of dreams, aspirations and his livelihood, and that’s the real struggle. All a Man Should Do’s “The Man I Was” and “I Woke Up in New Orleans” are boozy, regret-filled numbers that sound like they were written just as the hangover was setting in, highlighting the not-so-glamorous side of life on the road. But the road, and all of its complexities, is where Nichols sounds most comfortable, and, more importantly, most authentic.
As a band who is relentlessly compared to others, that authenticity, that slice of rough-and-tumble reality, is the brass ring. It’s the payoff and the reward, mainstream success be damned.