Austin Lucas Dips Into Dark Americana Sound on Socially Relevant ‘Alive In The Hot Zone’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Austin Lucas certainly wasn’t the first punk rock kid to put away the distortion pedal and pick up an acoustic guitar, leaning more into country and folk influences. But he’s always been among the most consistently solid. His latest, Alive In The Hot Zone, continues that streak.

Written and recorded in the early weeks of the global pandemic, the album is certainly a product of its time. Though Lucas was never one to shy away from politics, themes of despair, frustration, loneliness, anger and surprisingly, shades of optimism pop up throughout the record. Lucas was overseas at the start of the pandemic, watching from afar as his country was being torn apart thanks in large part to the man running things from the White House. From the solitude of the COVID lockdowns, being isolated from family and friends, to the Black Lives Movement marches and the brutality of federal troops and local cops unleashing unprovoked attacks on peaceful protestors, there are a slew of emotions contained in just 10 songs. The result ends up serving as a powerfully relevant time capsule of the past seven months.

The album starts off with the record’s two best tracks, the lyrically impressive “Already Dead” and “Drive,” a stellar song the sounds like the Americana response to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. The record gets a little slower and darker as it goes on. The album takes on a more Southern Gothic vibe on songs like “American Pyre” and “Anyone” and the collection ends with the beautifully mournful “Holy Sparrow.”

This year has seen some remarkably powerful political albums reacting to our current events, from the seemingly unprecedented cruelness of the Trump presidency, failure to respond to the raging global pandemic to mass protests confronting the killing of black Americans by police. Americana artists, in particular, like American Aquarium and Jason Isbell, have all added their voices to the moment. Lucas’s Alive In The Hot Zone fits perfectly alongside those records soundtracking our current reality. 

Photo credit: Noah Lucas

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