Ben Nichols - The Last Pale Light in the West (Cover Artwork)

Ben Nichols

The Last Pale Light in the West (2009)

Rebel Group

Before I begin my review on this mini-album, one should be informed about the novel this is entirely based on. The book is Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy. It is an epic novel set in the American southwest in the 1850s after the Mexican War. The story follows the Kid on a journey along the Texas-Mexico border. He joins up with a gang that murders Indians for their scalps. It challenges much of the mythology and conventions that one learns about the "Wild West" with the graphic violence it depicts through out the novel. The Judge, the antagonist of the story, kills for the pleasure of it, including the false persecution of a preacher at the beginning of the story. It is a very apocalyptic look at the West.

This brings us to our album, The Last Pale Light in the West. This is the solo debut of Ben Nichols, from Lucero, and he does an excellent job. Other than his gravely southern vocals, Nichols definitely departs from the signature sound that is Lucero. The sound is desolate and sparse, much like the atmosphere of the novel.

Nichols' guitar and vocals are accompanied by Rick Steff (Lucero and Cat Power) on keyboards and accordion, and Todd Beane (Glossary) on pedal steel. They all do excellent work.

Other than the title track, all songs are written about and based on characters of the novel. The only instrumental track heard is "The Judge." It has the same feel of an oncoming doom you would hear in an Ennio Morricone score in his spaghetti westerns.

The Last Pale Light in the West, just like the novel is based on, has very dark, bleak qualities found in it, but there still is some light found. This is found elsewhere in McCarthy's works such as The Road and No Country for Old Men. Either read the book first or read and listen at the same time. You can't go wrong.