Before teaming up with Universal Republic Records and producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem) to record their sixth studio album, 1372 Overton Park, Tennessee natives Lucero debuted two records on now defunct label Madjack, one on Tiger Style,  and two on their own label Liberty and Lament.

All were daringly beckoning albums about girls, varying from troubled and tatted to too young to touch. But more than that, each record slowly mapped their progression from yet another band out of Memphis to the supporting act for Social Distortion, and gracing presence on the soundtrack to the television series One Tree Hill. I’ve never been the guy who stops liking a good band once their street cred surpasses my neighborhood, so long as they remain good. But though I haven’t loved a Lucero record as much as their sophomore release Tennessee, they still remain my most common answer to a most common question: Who’s your favorite band?

I’ve often described Lucero as Kurt Cobain’s hypothetical alt-country project due to the curt nature of Ben Nichol’s voice, but their publicist seems to have pushed him as more of a neo-Springsteen.

Either way, Nichols is less a singer’s singer and more a sinner’s singer – an appropriate narrator to songs about making music, drunken love, and bad decisions. Nichols’ signature voice and style made him a perfect headliner for 2008’s Revival Tour, featuring Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music and Tim Barry of Avail, all performing solo sets leading up to an ensemble routine of the three front men. Deeply influenced by bands like Jawbreaker and Uncle Tupelo, Lucero is the seven grain option in a world saturated with plain white one-hit Wonderbread (Hey Delilah, I hope you like the crust cut from your pale, thin song).

While bands like Whiskeytown and Old 97’s showed me a  side to country music that wasn’t Garth Brooks, Lucero showed me a rock side to country music that wasn’t Lyrnyrd Skynyrd. They opened the door to artists I otherwise might have missed – ranging anywhere from The Replacements to The Hold Steady. But they won me over as more than a welcome mat to a new genre. While I’m commonly more  impressed with poetic lyricists like Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie)  and John K. Samson (The Weakerthans), Ben Nichols struck me with a profoundly simple approach. His lyrics cut straight to the bone without using the surgical devices of pretentious indie bands. Instead, he chooses the rusty pocketknife found in the shed.

As their facebook page so justly puts it, “They’re a band that doesn’t have fans as much as they have diehards who come to every show and scream the words to every song.” While there’s nothing gimmicky or novel about their stage presence, they’re a band who gets by on a repertoire of more crowd favorites than they can physically play in one concert. But this doesn’t stop them from trying anyway, well  into hours of shouting, strumming, and striking true.

As seen in NY filmmaker Aaron Goldman’s documentary on Lucero, Dreaming in America, they tour two hundred days a year and are a band of brothers rarely seen in rock and roll. Before the crest of their success, much of what little money they made from touring went towards medical bills for the back problems their drummer was all but facing from playing so damn much. The title track from their fourth record, Nobody’s Darlings, references their road heavy lifestyle and how returning to Tennessee is more alienating for the band than touring. To see Lucero on stage is to see them at home, and the same goes for much of their audience.

I’ve seen Lucero shows sell out amidst blizzards, but although their fans may not know the meaning of snowed in, Lucero canceled their Seattle performance last year due to viscous road conditions in WY. Don’t miss their strident return with Drag the River and local band Success! next week, December 1, at The Crocodile while you have the chance.  If you’ve never seen Lucero in person, I recommend learning the chorus of ‘The War’ ahead of time as it’s a sing-along staple for ticket holders (Doors 8pm/$16/21+).

Lucero – ‘The War’ from SwirlyTwirlyGumdrop Productions on Vimeo.

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