Lucero — Should’ve Learned By Now
The basis of Lucero’s sound has always been a gut-bucket hybrid of Southern rock and punk. Even when they added Memphis-flavored horns in 2009’s 1372 Overton Park or dipped into synthy 80s sci-fi in 2021’s When You Found Me, Ben Nichols’ crew kept the guitars front and center, creating one of the most consistent catalogs in Americana. Their 12th studio album, Should’ve Learned By Now, finds the band circling back to what they do best – road songs and late-night drinking dirges that mine two-plus decades worth of less-than-advisable living, while also beginning to reckon with the lasting damage incurred from that lifestyle.
On recent releases, especially Among the Ghosts, Nichols has embraced a thematic maturity, writing about how marriage and first-time fatherhood are affected by being the leader of a band that spends 100 or more nights on the road each year. Turns out, though, he’s still got plenty of stories from Lucero’s younger days, and that’s mostly where Should’ve Learned By Now lands. The album’s lead single, “One Last F.U.,” is just what it says: a cowbell-led kiss-off about a downhill-headed night at a bar – “Now it seems this bourbon/Well I’m not sure if it’s working – spent next to that one guy who just won’t shut up – “Either way it’s time that I move on.”
Old-school Lucero seems to have spent a lot of time in dives (surely, Nichols didn’t develop that rasp teaching Sunday school). “At The Show” follows the narrator’s evolution from underage concertgoer to onstage performer, all the time chasing the song and, mor importantly, the girl – “Maybe she’ll hear these songs I write/Maybe if she’s at the show tonight” (and, really, isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll’s always been about?) The heartland-y “Macon if We Make It” picks up the band a little later on, touring their way through Georgia during a storm – “The hurricane makes landfall/And they serve another round/It’s Macon if we make it/Savannah if we drown.”
A Lucero record review wouldn’t be complete without a nod to one of Americana’s MVPs, keyboardist Rick Steff. While his synths were a hallmark of When You Found Me, his work here is subtler, but no less vital. Whether it’s a wandering piano solo on “She Leads Me,” his organ bouncing off Brian Venable’s guitar on the title track, or some good ol’ accordion on album-closer “Time to Go Home,” Steff’s work is one of the characteristics that sets Lucero aside from other modern-day Southern rock outfits. All those best aspects of the band come together in the late-night waltz of regret, “Drunken Moon.” Jesse Davis and Cory Branan stop by to chip in harmonies while Nichols tries to drink off the outset of another lonely day – “Just before sunrise the moon starts to fade/Where are you going my friend?/We’re just getting started, don’t bring on/The sunlight again.” If these Memphis boys are in a happier, healthier place now, why pause to dig up these old, painful memories? To recognize where they’re at and what led them here while setting fire to the bridge that might lead them back. As Nichols indicated on his 2019 ode to his daughter, “Hello My Name Is Izzy,” it’s better on this side.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Nothing’s Alright” – the most punk-leaning song on the record with the dubious refrain, “But I don’t think about her anymore…Now I don’t think about her much.”
Should’ve Learned By Now was produced, engineered and mixed by Matt Ross-Spang and mastered by Jonathan Pines. All songs written by Ben Nichols. Lucero is Nichols (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars), Brian Venable (electric guitar), Roy Berry (drums and percussion), John C. Stubblefield (bass guitar) and Rick Steff (piano, B3, Moog), with Jesse Davis and Cory Branan contributing background vocals.
Go here to order Should’ve Learned By Now (out February 24): https://orcd.co/shouldvelearnedbynow
Check out Lucero tour dates here: https://luceromusic.com/tour/
Enjoy our interview of Ben Nichols here: Key to the Highway: Ben Nichols