October 05, 2003

Lucero "that much further west"

Of the many records I've reviewed over the past few years, none of them have had the instant mental imagery as Lucero's new album, That Much Further West. Sure, records come and go, and I think to myself, "this might be a good one to play at a party" or "this might be a great record for those romantic moments," but none of them have ever had the BOOM! instant emotional and sensual placement that this album did. It took me all of thirty seconds to know where and when this record should be listened to, and it tapped into a part of my mind that I simply cannot neglect discussing.

That Much Further West is definitely a Southern record, and, I bet you money that it cannot be fully appreciated by those in urban settings or in any place north of the Mason-Dixon line. It's an album that is full of very fresh memories for me--ones that I've had most of my life, yet they seem suddenly fresh, suddenly new. This is an album filled with humid Saturday twilights and hot, lonesome summer drives on I-20 between Dallas and Abilene, Texas. It's an album filled with road trips down country highways with your best girl, going nowhere in particular and then the bowling alley, to shoot some pool with Kevin and Leroy. It's goin' down to Daddy Sam's and getting a BBQ Sandwich and a bag of chips and eating it out by the lake. It's an album that reeks of beer and motor oil and cigarette smoke and rot-gut cologne that you use when you go cruising. It's circling Sonic looking for Brandon, hanging out in the parking lot, shootin' the shit with Tank and the boys. It's an album that should not be listened to on a weeknight, unless it's the summer and after 4 PM.It's an album that reminds me that most of the population of America lives in rural settings, and that life in the South and the forest and the woods is an experience that you must live to fully appreciate.

I don't know much about Lucero mastermind Ben Nichols, but I know that I want to shake his hand and buy him a beer. He's got a voice that's pained yet confident, singing from the bottom of his heart and his soul, offering you every bit of his life experience in song. At times, he sounds like Whiskeytown used to sound, and that, my friend, is a good thing. That Much Further West's title song kicks off the album with a sly guitar line--starting off ever so slowly--which then kicks into full-on, balls-out country-rock overdrive--which then goes all-out on the next track, "Mine Tonight," and it does NOT let up. Sure, it gets a little quiet here and there, and things get a little tender on songs like "Sad and Lonely" and "Across the River"--Nichols knows that 'sensitive' and 'man' are not mutually exclusive. They do have an arsenal of great rock, though; songs like "Tears Don't Matter Much," "Mine Tonight" and "Tonight Ain't Gonna Be Good." The music world hasn't produced music this hard-rocking in a very, very long time, and it's good to know that Lucero have succefully resurrected the dying genre we know as ROCK.

One of the odder things that makes That Much Further West even more fascinating is that it's an album of closers. Nearly every one of these songs have a vibe of conclusion to them; you could stick nearly every one of these tracks as the final song on a mixtape, and you'd conclude it perfectly. They're epic, but not heavy; they're uplifting, but never too positive; they never drag, they never belabor the point; they simply get down to the nitty-gritty buisness of ROCKING YOU OUT, and they do it with such finesse and grace, you probably didn't even realize you just had your ass kicked by one of today's best bands. If you wanted to leave things on a high note, "Tears Don't Matter Much" and "Mine Tonight" serve quite well; if you want a sadder, more somber note to conclude with, "Coming Home," "Joining the Army" and "Across The River" will do the trick.

It's also worth mentioning that the first pressing of That Much Further West comes with a second album. Normally, such things are not worth mentioning, but I must mention this one, because the bonus disc casts an interesting shadow over the album. It's a bootleg version of the album, featuring it in its entirety in rough form, stemming from demos, as well as alternate versions and live recordings. It's a fascinating look at the album, and at times it presents the album in almost opposite form. For instance "Mine Tonight" and "Coming Home"--two of the more rock oriented songs on the album--are presented in acoustic demo form, showing a tender side to the raw rock onslaught. On the opposite side, "Across the River," one of the album's soft spots, is presented in a heavy metal version (!!) that makes the song tougher, yet it retains the tenderness of the final version. The live tracks--though barely bootleg quality--also hint at Lucero's power onstage. Heck, there's even an ambient remix of the title cut that closes out the album--basing its mellow groove off of reverb.

I wonder if Tiger Style know that the best album they've ever released is also the one album that sounds the least like anything else they've ever released. If not, I'm sure they do now. This is one of the best country-rock albums I've heard since Whiskeytown's Faithless Street, and that's saying a LOT. That Much Further West is an album to be proud of, and should be just the thing to give Lucero the recognition they deserve. Who knew that such a traditional-sounding record would also be one of the year's most essential listens? Forget the Strokes, White Stripes, and all that other crap--Lucero's the real deal, and if you notice, they don't need some stupid gimmick or commercial to sell their music. I could talk about That Much Further West for several more paragraphs, but I don't think that I should, because that would take a little bit of joy out of the experience of the album. Instead, I inisist that you seek out this album immediatly, because you really will not be disappointed--especially if you've been eagerly awaiting the second coming of good Southern rock.

--Joseph Kyle

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