Lucero have been one of my favorite bands for years, and I have seen them live more than any other group. With the release of their new, Memphis Soul-inspired album Women & Work, the question is, does it live up to their past albums?
In my opinion, not quite. While a solid effort all-around, the songs lack the Springsteenian breadth and punk rock energy that fused with their Southern Rock/pub band sound so well. The soul infusion, which began successfully on their last album 1372 Overtone Park, brings positives and negatives to the band’s sound, depending on how you like your Lucero.
Opener “Downtown (Intro)” and “On My Way Downtown” give the best evidence of this. There’s an upbeat shuffle to the song which is refreshing, and Ben Nichols’ vocals are smoother and carrying a bit more attitude than on earlier records. But, it’s the vulnerability in Nichols’ voice that brings so much of the appeal to Lucero, and that vulnerability is missing on this record.
The emotional resonance that so much of Lucero‘s best work holds is not as strong on Women & Work. Hell, let’s be honest – Lucero are great at sad, down-on-your-luck songs, and there aren’t many on here. “It May Be Too Late” hints at some of their past melancholy, but the warm, full-band arrangement make the song’s protagonist seem to have a more positive resignation as he sings “It may be too late to save me, little girl”. The dark “I Can’t Stand to Leave You” is closest to Lucero’s earlier work, reminiscent of “The Weight of Guilt” from their album Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers. There’s a nice, nostalgic tinge of regret on “When I Was Young”, which is one of the album’s highlights.
Women & Work is truly Lucero‘s party album. The title track brings in barroom piano and horns for rollicking results. Similar is “Like Lightning”. “Who You Waiting On” shuffles to a sunny organ line, and once again shows Nichols’ exuding a lot more confidence in his lyrics, as he seduces a girl he believes is waiting on him.
For longtime fans, Women & Work may not be what you’re looking for in a Lucero album. For those new to the bandwagon, it may be more accessible and a good record to have lined-up for your soundtrack this summer.