Ok. Full disclosure, I am a huge Lucero fan. They are, to put it simply, my favorite band on the whole damn planet. I celebrate their entire catalog, from the lo-fi hiss of The Attic Tapes to the boisterous horns of their 2009 major label debut. So no, you probably won’t be shocked to find out that I adore Women & Work, the band’s 8th record in their 14 year run. What may shock you is that I will make one negative statement about the record: it’s not as good as 1372 Overton Park.
While some die-hard fans still decry the use of horns on the band’s first and probably only record for a major label (ATO Records is responsible for Women & Work), I loved it. Every inch of 1372 was perfect in my eyes. Even the throw-away songs were excellent. It’s the band’s best record song for song, front to back. None of which means that Women & Work is anything to sneer at.
Since the band’s beginning, Lucero has evolved a bit on every record while managing to sound more or less the same. Women & Work has many of the same hallmarks as 1372 did, horns, Rick Steff, and some classic soul ballads. These influences are a bit more seamless on this record. The horns seem to find the cracks in the songs rather than powering through the mix and Ben’s voice has never been in better form.
The band is still moving forward musically as well. Check out the rockabilly influences on “Women and Work” and “Like Lightening,” the blues romp of “Juniper,” and the gospel choir closer “Go Easy.” The band wasn’t chiding about writing a love letter to Memphis. “Go Easy” in particular was a revelation for me. Hey Ben, why don’t you bring the gospel choir on the next tour?
My favorite songs on the record, however, are classic Lucero. The opening “On My Way Downtown” is probably the best song on the record and destined to be a set list mainstay for the band’s legendary live shows. The song is about calling an old flame to (hopefully) go out drinking at the beginning of the night. “It May Be Too Late,” part two of the story, is about that person not showing up and the narrator drinking all night long. In other words, Ben Nichols at his melancholy late night best.
So you see, I really do love this record. It just doesn’t quite have the epic feel that 1372 embodied. Maybe it was the major label thing or the horns thing or the Ted Hutt (producing here again, as he did on 1372) thing, but 1372 felt and feels like Lucero’s definitive album. Women & Work is (just) a collection of badass songs by one of America’s best rock and roll bands.
The more things change the more things stay the same. That isn’t to say that Lucero hasn’t evolved. Their sound has expanded with each record, as they have incorporated more and more of their influences. On Women & Work the band is paying tribute to their hometown, Memphis. That is not an observation; it is plainly stated on their website. The intentionality of accentuating the Soul sound of Memphis makes their purpose more noticeable, but in reality it is nothing new. Even in their early days, their gruff vocals and loose guitar riffs were permeated by their roots.
Gradually each successive album has progressed and expanded their sound. However, the driving angst of their early music has never been lost. It is a rare quality for a band to be able to grow and expand without losing its’ spirit. Lucero manages to do just that. While Women & Work may be their most ambitious effort so far, at the center is still the raw energy that has been the heart of every Lucero album.
About the author: Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd