Posted by
Nov 262008

I’ve written this three times, because it’s always way too long for RTH, and way too fawning for me. Maybe Mwall’s “tuneless” comment is intimidating me! I found out about Lucero from a one=word post on a message board that answered the question, “Where does a Replacements fan go in this century?” A one-word answer that seemed so sure, stuck in the middle of a bunch of posts that lamented the loss of The ‘Mats and the usual, “Rock is dead now,” crap that every generation seems to say when they get bored with rock n roll seemed to say it all. “Lucero.” I was intrigued.

I missed The Replacements. I had some Uncle Tupelo cd’s while they were a functioning unit, but never saw them. I found out about Whiskeytown when Stranger’s Almanac came out, and again never saw them. I completely missed Jawbreaker. I found Lucero’s latest album (at the time) in Massachusetts the week it came out. The kid at the counter asked me who they were and I just said, “I dunno. I hope they’re good.” The album was That Much Further West and as it turns out, guitar player Brian Venable isn’t on it, and he’s a main reason I’ve come to like all their other albums more than the one I initially found. I’ve seen them several times, the first time all by myself. The last time I had six other people with me. They were my band, then they were our band. They aren’t quite everyone’s band, and maybe that will never happen. I hope it does for them, but if it doesn’t I already know that their albums aren’t the kind that sit on my shelf for years between plays, and I know in 20 years I’ll still feel lucky to have their music.

Where does Jawbreaker fit in all this? The other bands I mentioned have that Americana vibe, and share a knack for decent lyrics and nice turns of phrase. Jawbreaker shares that lyrical sensibility, and while their sound musically leans more punk than country, Lucero are big fans and Jawbreaker shares as much in their influences as The Replacements or Uncle Tupelo. The Jawbreaker song “Kiss the Bottle” is always a highlight when they play it live. I bet some of their fans think it’s a Lucero song. Their live shows are always fun, and the band can range from super tight to drunk and sloppy all in the same song, but that’s how bands that I like tend to play. I think for some of Lucero’s fans, their nods to Jawbreaker and The Replacements are just one more thing that brings them closer to their fans.

Jawbreaker – “Kiss the Bottle”

Lucero – “Kiss the Bottle”

Wanna hear someone famous miss the point?

I just don’t buy it from the guys that fight Foo.

One of the things I like about Lucero is that their lyrics are vague enough to relate to almost anyone, but just specific enough to apply to most people in some way.

You were sixteen
When you fell in love
All grown up now
Once was enough
To beat the odds one night
Forty East

Ben Nichols certainly isn’t Bob Dylan, but he isn’t trying to be, either. Beating the odds on 40 East could be almost anything. A car crash, hitchhiker pickup, long walk home or whatever. Everyone was sixteen, and everyone has beat the odds, or at least felt like they did. Throwing in a Replacements reference is a nice wink to the longtime fans.

Lucero – “Sixteen”

I think they’re a pretty interesting band, and I am almost positive that if I were still a teenager, this would be my favorite band. The songs cover subjects like girls, family, girls, army, girls and drinking. I’m pretty sure if they stick to that formula, they can have a career that lasts forever! Lucero just signed a major label deal with Universal for four albums. They have really fattened up their sound and almost incessant touring has made them a pretty tight unit. Can they walk that fine line from the underground to indie powerhouse? Who knows? The seven albums they’ve done so far are all worthwhile, so they’ve already had more of a career than most bands, and I hope they get “as big as Wilco,” which Ben said they could handle once.

Lucero – “Drink ‘Till We’re Gone”

Lucero – “Sing Me No Hymns”

Lucero – “Across the River”

I never know which songs to pick, and I’m not saying these are their best. These are just some that I like, and mostly that I happen to like for this today. Check out this YouTube video some guy did for a school project. I hope it’s his first one! It’s a good song, though.


  21 Responses to “Lucero”

  1. The thing that bugs me is that The Replacements are always seen as a sort of salt of the earth, heart on the sleeve kind of band.

    Yet what set them apart was their embrace of 70s rock as a radical stylistic response to hardcore.

    Uncle Tupelo, while imitating the Replacements, pushed their country leanings much further and became one of the leaders of the alt-country scene.

    I’m not hearing any attempt by Lucero to forge a similarly innovative style. In that sense, they’re actually not very good imitators of the Mats. They may have some of the stylistic tics of Westerburg’s guitar/vocals/lyrics but they don’t fully grasp the big picture.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey, Mod/thebackoffice — I want to respond to your YouTube video of the dude’s record collection, but RTH won’t let me. Check it out, will you?

    Thanks —


  3. I’ve listened to the several Lucero records I have enough times to like some aspects of them. The gritty guitar sound. The pile-driving Americana of their best songs; they can really dig into a groove.

    The lyrics, though, are blah, without any of the humor of the Replacements or the emotional power of the best Tupelo cuts, and I’m afraid that the lyrics 2000 Man quotes go a long way towards proving my point. The “vague enough/specific enough” doesn’t wash with me: I just see generic. And yes, I still don’t find the band very tuneful. I’ve played the records I have several times and I still don’t remember any of the songs. I’m mixed on the vocals: like them at some moments, feel they strike whiskey-soaked generic at others.

    Dr. John’s points are crucial also, I’d say. Lucero seems to be doing something a little less well that other people have done better, and don’t forge new ground like the Replacements or Tupelo either.

    whiskeytown too, by the way, is a band that doesn’t quite make the grade for me: it sounds okay in that way of “I like this approach well enough but I’ve heard other people do it better.”

    So I think this is probably a case in which there’s a kind of sound that 2000 Man really really loves, but that Lucero seems a second-string band to those of us who like this sound but don’t have to love it every time.

    But 2000, don’t let me rain on your enthusiasm for this band, as I know you won’t. I have a very developed taste for several kinds of music that people around here aren’t that into, so I say if you love the band, who gives a hell what anyone thinks. Right?

  4. BigSteve

    This thread is confusing for me. I realized while I was reading it that, whenever I’ve read the name Lucero in the past, I thought I was reading about Zumpano. And the comparison to Jawbreaker made me realize I can’t tell the difference between them and Jawbox. Then after listening to the Lucero tracks, I was wondering if the singer in Lucero always tries to sing exactly like Westerberg. Also I don’t hear anything ‘countryish’ about these tracks.

  5. I’m having the same problem that bakshi is, and I had shit to say, too.

  6. Never heard them before, they sound pretty good. If I just stumbled across them in a bar I would think I really found something…I’ll keep an ear out for them in the future. There’s a girl up here in Canada that no one has heard of either, Kathleen Edwards. These two would make a great double bill.

  7. northcoveman said: “There’s a girl up here in Canada that no one has heard of either, Kathleen Edwards.”

    She is all over WXPN here in Philly…

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Man, I’ve never even heard of this band. The whole Replacements/Americana thing always passes me by, usually for the better as far as my tastes are concerned. Thanks for the exposure to this band, 2k, and don’t fear posting long pieces to RTH. They are welcome any time they’ve got the passion and enthusiasm you always bring to your contributions.

    These songs are OK by me, but this style of singing never hits the mark for me. The specific delivery of so many singers in the broadly Westerberg/Steve Earle-influenced branch of Americana strikes me as a shortcut to writing real melodies. Maybe I’m just jealous because I’ve got absolutely no gravel in my voice, but I’ve always heard these songs as aiming for what Rod Stewart was able to do in his prime but lacking the subtlety of Stewart’s delivery – and who would have ever thought subtlety could be a word used in conjunction with Stewart?

    Among these songs – and among all songs in this genre – I like it best when the band plays a larger role and the singer’s just part of the band. “Sing Me No Hymns” may be my favorite here because the band gets to cut loose with a lot of cool guitar and organ conventions from the book of ’70s rock.

    Of the three versions of that first song you post, 2K, I do like Lucero’s version best. Again, the band gets to hang looser than it does on other songs.

    That’s my 2 cents, from a guy who, as always, scratches his head over the benchmark of the well-intentioned Paul Westerberg.

  9. 2000 Man

    I really only mention The Replacements because that’s how I heard about them. I really think these days their influence is that you can make it “big enough” to be a musician for a living. I’ve heard people toss the Mats in with Drive By Trckers, too and I don’t hear it there, either. Lyrically, I think it’s just a style similar to Westerberg’s of keeping it simple, and writing about what you know. Jim Dickinson also produced one of their albums.

    That’s something I can get behind. I’m not a hobbit or a viking and I have a hard time relating to that stuff. It was easier to like that when I was a kid, but now I like stuff I can fit into what’s going on in my little part of the world.

    BigSteve, I probably could have grabbed some of the older, more countryish tracks, but I never know what to use. I just picked some stuff that most people can actually get. Finding their first album or Tennessee can be challenging, but I think it’s worth it. The songs are generally slower and they use 3/4 time in some of them, which is different. I can post some more songs if you want to hear the older stuff.

    dr. john, thanks for listening. I don’t always need a band to progress anything. The Flamin’ Groovies never pushed any envelopes, but the well they’re mining is deep and there’s a tin more songs in it, I’m sure. I just want to see them push their part of that sound in different directions, and so far they aren’t making the same album over and over. You can tell they’re the same band from the first to the latest, but they’re different now.

    northvancoveman, I’m glad you liked what you heard! Kathleen Edwards is on my list of stuff to check out, now with a person fronm RTH mentioning her, I think I’ll step up my search.

    Mr. Mod, thanks for the encouragement. I enjoyed working on this, and I had way too many songs and way too much typed up. I agree with BigSteve about back story – these songs should stand on their own with YOUR back story. Who cares if the song is about a photo book Ben looked at? How does it relate to ME? So I tried to leave some of that out. I promise I’ll give you a band from Ohio with any even more gravelly voiced songer soon. I say they kill.

    mwall, I’m used to it by now. No one listens to what I listen to. I listen to music by myself most of the time, so I don’t have to impress anyone. When I was a kid I thought Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith all sucked and Boston and Journey were unlistenable. So I’m used to people telling me I listen to crap, and no one went anywhere near that far, and better yet, at least they listened!

  10. She is all over WXPN here in Philly…

    So true. I kept hearing her duet with John Doe on his newest album a lot on XPN as well. I really like the song, as it’s the closest he gets to sounding like X on it. Incidentally, I heard a new Crooked Fingers song on there last night that reminded me of both later period X and that Doe/Edwards duet. It’s a duet with Neko Case and they’re definitely going for that X circa See How We Are vibe.

    As for Lucero, they’re a band I’ve long heard others go on about, but have never actually heard. I’m a huge Jawbreaker and Replacements fan, though, so I’m intrigued. I’ll listen and get back to all of you via this thread.

  11. OK now that I’ve listened to all of the Lucero songs above as well as that Foo Fighters version of “Kiss the Bottle”, here are my thoughts. First off, I’m not much of a fan of the Foo Fighters version, but stylistically it’s definitely a bit closer to Jawbreaker’s original version than Lucero’s version is. The slickness and blandness (so typical for them) turns me off, though overall it’s not bad.

    As for Lucero, I like the music but just don’t dig that guy’s voice at all. Sorry. It’s not even that I think he sounds like Westerberg. He does, but only on one song. It’s the drawl/southern rock resemblance, at least in the way he uses it, that turns me off slightly (it’s not bad, but just not my thing). I’m not really sure why, as I like old country singers (Johnny Cash, George Jones, Hank Williams Sr, et al.) and early country-rock pioneers (Gram Parsons) along with some (though not all) Americana artists’ vocals (Jeff Tweedy, who in Wilco’s early days also reminded me a bit of Westerberg on occasion, comes to mind here).

    I think it’s related to my dislike of the vocals on Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket’s records, too, but I’m not quite sure how exactly.

  12. BigSteve

    Matt wrote:

    I think it’s related to my dislike of the vocals on Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket’s records, too, but I’m not quite sure how exactly.

    Maybe it’s just that you prefer Southerners when they’re dead.

    But seriously I think it’s common to enjoy styles of music when they’ve achieved some historical distance from us but still have trouble enjoying their contemporary manifestations. I love R&B/soul, but not what passes for it on contemporary radio. I love reggae only up until the mid 70s or so, and I can’t deal with dancehall and ragga for the most part. Same with the blues.

  13. My band got to open for Lucero back in day. Memphis boys. I’ll give them a thumbs up. I don;t own any of their records, but their stuff doesn’t disgust me either. They are good ol’ local boys.


  14. Maybe it’s just that you prefer Southerners when they’re dead.

    Hey now! I like Levon Helm’s voice (just one of many examples) just fine and he’s still alive. 🙂

    But seriously I think it’s common to enjoy styles of music when they’ve achieved some historical distance from us but still have trouble enjoying their contemporary manifestations. I love R&B/soul, but not what passes for it on contemporary radio. I love reggae only up until the mid 70s or so, and I can’t deal with dancehall and ragga for the most part. Same with the blues.

    This is a great comment that I think deserves its own thread on the Main Stage. I think about this issue a lot. Like you, I love old r’n’b/soul/funk but dislike about 99% of contemporary r’n’b. I feel the exact same way about reggae. I like it up to the late ’70s or early ’80s, generally speaking (there are some very notable exceptions, just like with r’n’b). Part of it is the production, the use of synths/drum machines and the lack of real “soul”. Does that make me a rockist? Or a soulist, as one of our fellow members would say? I also feel the same way about rap and to some extent, hardcore punk as well.

    With rap, I like the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s stuff just fine, but with the exception of some underground stuff (a lot of which references “the golden age” of the late ’80s/early ’90s) and some more mainstream stuff like Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, The Roots, et al. that are somewhat similar, I can’t stand most of the rap of the last 10-15 years. Take Lil’ Wayne, for example. Everyone loves him. He’s like the perfect storm of hip-hop critical and commercial acceptance right now, just like Outkast (who I like) were 4-5 years ago. i don’t get it at all. I’ve tried with one of his mixtapes. Maybe one day I will. Can someone explain his appeal to me?

    With hardcore punk, I love the ’80s and early ’90s stuff but I think (generally speaking) it got watered down over the years due to a variety of factors ranging from its temporary (relative) commercial success in the mid ’90s (when acts like Civ were signed to major labels and had MTV/alternative radio hits) to the fact that it got more and more metallic over the years as well. Now what they call “hardcore” isn’t stuff that sounds like Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, Negative Approach, et al. but rather screamo with drop D tuning, screaming (not singing or even yelling) vocals and no hint of a tune anywhere (at least to my ears). Again, there are very notable exceptions to this rule. Bands like Fucked Up, Career Suicide and Government Warning, just to give a few examples, have gotten me interested in newer punk/HC again because (for the most part) they sound as if all the stuff I mentioned above didn’t happen and though they’re clearly inspired by early ’80s hardcore, they manage to sound contemporary at the same time somehow.

    So what does this all mean? Well part of it is that I’m getting old, though obviously I’m one of the younger folks here. I think, at least in part, that there’s some music that I just don’t get as a result of my age. Every generation of kids should have music that their parents are perplexed by.

  15. Mr. Moderator

    I’m sure the rock/soul snob in most of us has trouble fully digging the newer editions of whatever original model of a kind of music we love. The technology has changed, and I think that plays a huge role in how we react to the style of music the artist is attempting to carry on. Even among the original artists of any movement, few seem to withstand more than one significant technological advancement. After a while the artist’s music starts sounding different, even if they’re playing essentially the same music. I’d say The Kinks are a band that continued writing pretty much the same kind of songs through their career, but the effect of those songs was dampened considerably with each new trend in recording. By the early ’80s, a song like “Come Dancing,” which may have been a beloved Village Green-type song had we heard it recorded back then, simply sounds weak. See also John Fogerty, whose Centerfield songs really are no different from his best CCR songs, but they sound weak recorded the way they were.

    That’s the hardest part of my argument. Now think about some young buck trying to pick up on an old favorite. The vocal approach and the musical arrangements have been codified. The new artist leads with grand gestures that drive us right up to the front door of all that we loved about the original model and had to find on our own. The Journey is taken out of the equation. What real music fan wants to bypass The Journey (not, however, Journey – the band)?

    Of course, this is a major snob’s perspective. It’s possible that some of these newer models intend to do much more than drive us to the front gate of Graceland. Prince, who a few of you like, might be doing more with his points of reference, and that’s cool. Hopefully we can occasionally catch a glimpse of the more-progressive of these artists.

  16. 2000 Man

    I have plenty of Rock Snobbery in me, too. But I also only think a very few artists have ever done anything truly original so I can let that slide a lot. I tend to think if everything has to be groundbreaking, I’ll never lsiten to anything.

    I think every band wants to make their albums sound as good as they can (except maybe Times New Viking), and as they advance through their career they can get into better studios and get better producers. I don’t know what makes a CCR song great, but makes Fogerty’s solo career make my skin crawl. It has to be the experience and wanting to use that experience to make better recordings.

    I try real hard to not be one of those people that drops a band when they get on a major label. They aren’t selling out, they’re trying to be successful. Sometimes they end up leaving me behind, but sometimes they keep making great stuff. But I’m still interested in that Journey. The Stones certainly didn’t break any new ground at all on Now!, but I still think it’s a fantastic record. Later in their career they pushed into some new directions, and so long as a band can make good music in a style I laready enjoy, I’m more than willing to come along for their journey.

    Although Kings of Leon should really rethink the path they just walked down. I may wait to hear their next one before I drop my money on it.

  17. Hey 2000 Man, what do you think about Eleventh Dream Day? I was listening to Lived To Tell today and thought it delivered the goods more consistently than Lucero, though the touch point is clearly Crazy Horse rather than The Replacements. They still have the issue of no tunes as such, but it seems to me that they can really flat out play in a more consistent way than I hear in Lucero. Anyway, just seeking your two cents on this other band, and anybody else’s for that matter.

  18. BigSteve

    I generally agree with 2k about Fogerty’s solo career, but I swear that first s/t solo album is as good or better than than any Creedence album. I just listened again to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. It looks like it’s out of print again (still?), but I have a vinyl rip of it if anyone doesn’t believe me.

  19. 2000 Man

    mwall, I never heard of them. I just checked out Youtube and found a 2 minute video for a song called Testify, and I’m about 40 seconds into it. I can flat out tell that they’re exactly the kind of thing I can get behind. I hate when I miss stuff like that, but there’s only so many things I can do. Thanks for the heads up. I like how they’re quiet in parts, and then loud and sloppy, like Centro Matic.

    BigSteve, I hate to say it, but I don’t believe you! I can’t remember the last time I heard any solo Fogerty that I liked, maybe you could enlighten me?

  20. BigSteve

    2k, it’s the album that has the oft-covered Almost Saturday Night and Rockin’ All Over the World, plus a batch of fine to excellent covers, and and handful of other very good originals. I’ll send you a CD if you like. Are there other people who haven’t heard this? Mr. Mod, since it’s unavailable could we get away with posting the whole thing, maybe for a limited period of time?

  21. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve, MAKE IT SO! (Have you ever seen The Next Generation?) I’ve always wanted to find a copy of both that album and the one he did under some band name, like Blue Ridge Mountain Ramblers, or whatever he called it. Let me know if you need help with getting the tracks posted. Thanks!

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