Lucero – All a Man Should Do (ALBUM REVIEW)

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luceroalbumLucero’s Ben Nichols is the man’s man of alt-country, all gruff masculinity and rough around the edges. Which is why it may take longtime fans by surprise to hear his softer side shine through on the band’s new record All a Man Should Do. It is, by far, Lucero’s most pop-heavy album they’ve ever made, full of romantic, swoon-worthy hooks and stories of heartbreak. And boy, does it suit them.

All a Man Should Do opens with the sexy, addictive “Baby Don’t You Want Me”, a song that tackles insecurity to the tune of lonesome sounding acoustic guitar and Nichols’ signature rasp reaching Springsteen-level heights. Similarly, “My Girl & Me in ‘93” is dreamy, with all the excitement and sexual buzzing of young love. “It was 1993/The land of opportunity/It was just my girl and me/Us against the world/She was like the stars at night/I was falling from the sky,” sings Nichols in his monotone growl. It’s a simple love song, capturing the nostalgia and vibrancy of youth. Though Man finds Lucero waxing about the past and what is was like to be young, it is also the most mature they’ve ever sounded.

“Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” finds Nichols singing spoken-word style in a true, old fashioned road song about missed opportunities and growing up, both themes that weave through nearly every song on this record. “So long, so long/Goin’ back to Memphis/With a picture and a song/So long, so long/Gonna find a jukebox/Everyone can sing along,” he repeats serenely in an unforgettable chorus, getting this tune to seep deep into your brain the way a great pop song should. All a Man Should Do may be Lucero’s most refined record to date, and this song is the evidence to prove it.

On an unexpected, but so fitting cover of Big Star’s “I’m in Love with a Girl”, Nichols continues to show he’s a softy at heart. And when Big Star’s Jody Stephens shows up to harmonize, your knees may weaken to the point of no return. Much like Big Star, Memphis is at the heart of Lucero, and though each band manifests the place differently in their sounds, the connection between them is clear.

“Can’t You Hear Them Howl” and “Young Outlaws” will sound more like the rowdy, raucous Lucero we know well. Both tunes are filled with that deeply Americana rock and roll spirit Lucero’s always possessed. And “I Woke Up in New Orleans” may be one of their darkest, most heartbreaking songs. A bluesy song about hitting rock bottom, the added horns will only cut you deeper.

Throughout Man, Rick Steff’s warm, tinkling piano playing adds a soulful flame to these songs about what could have been. It stands out particularly on the Tom Waits-ish “The Man I Was”, which follows the lead of “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” with its beautifully repetitive chorus. This is a song that makes you realize that no matter how much we idealize the past, it would be worst to relive it all over again. Our mistakes make us who we are, and Nichols and his band seem to know that better than anyone.

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