When Lucero re-released The Attic Tapes earlier this year, frontman Ben Nichols wrote in the liner notes that Lucero is no longer an acoustic/solo country project. With that said, any claims that Lucero is abandoning their country roots are entirely without merit. Besides, Lucero has always embraced the spirit of punk rock in their songs, perhaps more than many punk bands do.
But relax -- they don't abandon a thing.
A lot of people were expecting Lucero to release the perfect album with Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, the band's fifth studio album. There's no doubt that it's the band's best work to date. While 2005's Nobody's Darlings was a noticeable bridge between their more straight-up country sound and a more Memphis-injected sound, Rebels represents a complete embrace of the latter.
Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers is a grand record in every direction. The album's lead track, "What Else Would You Have Me Be" sets the stage perfectly with its Springsteen-inspired guitar and huge, rolling melodies. It's as though the song picks the listener up and carries them over a long journey over rolling hills. It's an absolutely beautiful song. The stage set by Lucero early on sees that even the most hopeless themes can be presented with grandeur, as the music often does for Nichols' lyrics.
However, just as Lucero is able to quickly set the listener up with one kind of expectation, they throw a curveball. The album's second song, "I Don't Wanna Be the One," stands up strong enough on its own, but when following "What Else Would You Have Me Be," comes off as one-dimensional. Just as quickly, things pick up again with "San Francisco," leaving the listener to wonder why "I Don't Wanna Be the One" found such a prominent place on the album.
The album is also the most commercially appealing of Lucero's catalogue and it comes complete with a lead-off single: "I Can Get Us Out of Here," which immediately presents itself as a timeless song and without a doubt one of the strongest Lucero has ever written.
The first third of the album really sets the bar high for what's to follow. By and large, what does follow is the musical excursion that Lucero seems to have been teasing their fans with all along. In "Nineteen Seventy Seven" and "On the Way Back Home," things slow almost to a halt reminding me why I so often choose a bottle of Jim Beam to listen to Lucero with. "She Wakes When She Dream" closes the album off in a decidedly underproduced fashion. While none of the songs come to match the tempo or pure Memphis rock influence as early on, songs like "Cass" and "The Mountain" come close.
I enjoy the Lucero that has traditionally stumbled through a record with a number of sounds. While they've never journeyed too far out of their comfort level (or mine), they've never been afraid to lay out a myriad of sound. However, they've brought a sound to the stronger tracks on Rebels. Rogues & Sworn Brothers that they've never shown before. After hearing those songs, there's nothing left to want and everything else seems to be filler -- although fantastic filler.
In short, some of the songs on Rebels are the best Lucero has ever written. The rest are for the most part as good as anything they've ever done -- which no longer seems to be enough.