Even in the midst of this era of great Americana songwriters, Ben Nichols has always been considered a gifted storyteller. A few years back, the Lucero frontman shifted his focus from the stories of himself and his bandmates to include both the larger world (Civil War soldiers and once-illegal mixed-race marriages) and deeply personal (the life-saving influence of his wife and daughter). After tingeing their previous release, 2018’s Among the Ghosts, with the occasional 80s flourish, Lucero’s new album, When You Found Me, dives headfirst into the world of synthesizers and cinematic storytelling.
First of all, folks – BREATHE. Your favorite band of Memphis roughnecks hasn’t gone all Depeche Mode. But there is undeniably a sci-fi feel to this new record – the album cover even bears a resemblance to old Metropolis movie posters – and Lucero’s keyboardist, Rick Steff, who collects vintage synthesizers, must be positively thrilled with this sonic detour. But if you like guitars, Nichols’ rasp and lyrics dripping in Southern gothic, you’ll still feel at home..
Both traditional and new Lucero are evident from the album’s first song. Stabbing guitar and eerie keys set up “Have You Lost Your Way” before Nichols’ multi-tracked vocals introduce a young heroine pursued by an unnamed evil. Women don’t come to Lucero songs unprepared, however – rather than running, she turns to face the danger: “She let the scabbard of her sword fall away.” Sci-fi synth and tough young women also appear in the album’s second track, “Outrun the Moon,” which sets up a chase from its first lines – “It was over before he fell down/She heard them screaming run and don’t look back.”
If your taste in Lucero runs more to Cormac McCarthy-like darkness (give Nichols’ solo album, 2009’s Last Pale Light in the West, based on the author’s Blood Meridian, a listen sometime), “Coffin Nails” is the song for you. It’s set on rhythmic acoustic guitar and piano, and the story goes back several generations in the songwriter’s family. Most notable, though, is the line “I weigh my deeds on my father’s scales/I balance them with coffin nails,” a couplet so exquisitely dark that any Southern writer would be proud to call it his or her own. And “The Match” is a sleepy-drunk mystery involving a lake, a white deer and a witch with a promise of retribution: “I’m the bringer of pain/For the wrongs you have done.”
When You Found Me, though, is much more than bleakness. Hell, even McCarthy based one of his most desolate novels, The Road, around the relationship between father and son. Likewise, Nichols’ songwriting, like his life, has come to center around his young daughter. “Pull Me Close Don’t Let Go” is a sort of mid-album interlude where, over a synth bed, Nichols intones the title as a mantra, ensuring his family that even as he “was gone too long…I was always true.” And the album wraps with what four-year-old Izzy calls Dad’s “I’m gonna be okay song.” Over mostly acoustic guitar and piano, the album’s title cut acknowledges Nichols’ self-periled journey to happiness – “You found a way for me/To find my way to you.” That’s what young Izzy wants to hear as she drifts off to sleep. Pretty smart kid.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live – “Have You Lost Your Way”: Simmering keys, stabbing guitar and booming drums. What a way to kick off a show.
When You Found Me was produced by Lucero and Matt Ross-Spang, engineered and mixed by Ross-Spang and mastered by Pete Lyman. Lucero is Ben Nichols (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, Mellotron), Brian Venable (electric guitar), Roy Berry (drums, percussion), John C. Stubblefield (bass) and Rick Steff (piano, B3, Moog, synthesizers), along with Jim Spake on saxophone.
Go here to order When You Found Me: https://lucero.merchtable.com
The band has two Tennessee dates scheduled – look for more here: http://luceromusic.com/tour
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