It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since Lucero dropped 1372 Overton Park. That album saw the Memphis, Tenn. sextet incorporating a horn section into their punk/country hybrid attack, as well as more keys and steel guitar than ever before to great effect. On the group's latest offering, Women & Work, Lucero more or less sticks to the blueprint laid by that album, and while it might not have as strong of an impact overall, it does contain a great deal of the excellent songwriting we’ve come to expect from Ben Nichols & Co. and a number of songs which are sure to be future live favorites.
The record begins with a guitar lick that harkens back to the Tennessee/That Much Further West days before “On My Way Downtown” brings us back into the here and now. “On my way downtown, thought you might be around / Come on down, have a drink / Have a round, it’s on me,” croons Ben Nichols, sounding a great deal less raspy than he did on the majority of the group’s last full-length. He’s singing, as he almost always does, to an unidentified female, but the words sound like an invitation to listeners, and serve a sort of “Welcome to the record” purpose.
The title track makes full use of the keys and horns that have come to epitomize later Lucero, and coupled with some classic Nichols lyrics about letting go and having a good time, it’s just as strong of a song as 1372 highlights “Sounds of the City” and “Halfway Wrong.”
One of the strongest tracks on Women & Work, and the one with the biggest commercial appeal is “Who You Waiting On?”. The lyrical twist (“I think it must have been me all along”) comes a bit too early in the song, and would have been better reserved until the final chorus, but the bouncy, almost Gaslight Anthem-esque verses are nothing less than infectious, and if the band chooses to release it as a single, it could be huge.
Other highlights include album centerpiece “I Can’t Stand to Leave You,” a moody midtempo rocker which makes better use of the horn section than perhaps anything else we’ve heard from the group thus far, and the slower, more reflective “When I Was Young,” which will sit quite nicely by “Nights Like These” in the band's live shows.
If there’s a problem with Women & Work, it’s pacing. The low-burning ballad “It May Be Too Late,” while a fine track in its own right, comes way too early in the album. Placed right between the danceable title track and the swagger-filled “Juniper,” it kind of kills the momentum of the record, and would have been better placed in the record’s second half.
So while Women & Work is essentially more of the same for Lucero, the formula works as well as it ever has. At this point in Lucero's career, and with songs this strong, the band doesn’t need to reinvent itself. It’s hard to imagine any fans of 1372 Overton Park being disappointed with Women & Work. So go downtown, grab a drink, grab a friend, put your money in the jukebox and sing along.