Apr 1, 2021

Credit Bob Bayne, Lucero

Muddy Bottom Blues

Program #238 (April 2 at 8:00 p.m. and April 3 at 3:00 p.m.)

Adding a Southern flavor to their love of Springsteen, the Mekons, and the indie folk-pop of Ida, Memphis alt-country rockers Lucero have suffered the turbulence that comes with the indie scene, but their story of perseverance and survival is triumphant, so much so that director Aaron Goldman made a film about it.

Synonymous with their hometown -- in 2018, the city's mayor officially declared April 14 "Lucero Day" -- the band's impressive catalog has run the gamut from country, soul, and blues to garage-punk and heartland rock, with highlights arriving via 2003's nervy That Much Further West, 2009's gritty major-label debut 1372 Overton Park, and 2015's reflective and heartfelt All a Man Should Do.

Averaging nearly an album a year while maintaining a relentless touring schedule, Lucero were sometimes called one of the hardest working groups of the early aughts, and while their output slowed a bit in the 2010s, their quality and commitment to their music was as strong as ever.

Formed by leader Ben Nichols in the late '90s, Lucero took their name from the Spanish word meaning "bright star." After releasing a single on the Landmark label, Lucero -- rounded out by drummer Roy Berry, bassist John C. Stubblefield, guitarist Brian Venable, and keyboard man Rick Steff -- signed with the alternative country label Madjack for their 2001 self-titled debut. Momentum started to build with their 2002 release Tennessee.

Critics picked up on their rock and Replacements edge, and the band signed with the more diverse Tiger Style label. The 2003 release That Much Further West earned them positive reviews and a spot on Rolling Stone's Hot List. Things seemed to be going well, but as the album was catching indie fire, Tiger Style announced they were closing shop.

The band formed their own label, Liberty & Lament, through a deal with East West, and worked on their next album with famed musician/producer Jim Dickinson. Released in spring of 2005, Nobody's Darlings featured the most Southern-fried sounds from the group yet.

Mixing archival footage with film shot during the recording of the album, Goldman premiered his Lucero documentary Dreaming in America in September 2005. A month later, the film was released on DVD and CD/DVD, featuring 13 rare live bonus tracks. The out-of-print effort The Attic Tapes (originally released prior to their 2001 Madjack debut) was reissued in April 2006 with bonus early demos and rare 7" tracks, which preceded the release of Lucero's next studio effort, September's Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers. Supporting tour dates through the fall followed with openers Rocky Votolato and William Elliott Whitmore.

The year 2009 saw the release of Nichols' solo EP The Last Pale Light in the West, and the band's album 1372 Overton Park. Lucero spent the remainder of the year on tour in support of the album.

Lucero remained busy touring in 2010 and 2011. Although they didn't record, they played festivals ranging from SXSW to Coachella to the Van's Warped Tour (Nichols played some solo shows as well). Toward year's end, they reentered the studio to begin Women & Work, their debut offering for ATO Records. Produced by Ted Hutt and featuring a full horn section -- as well as guest vocals from Amy LaVere -- the album was released in March 2012, followed by an American tour.

In November 2013, Lucero played a three-night stand in Atlanta; the show was recorded with an eye toward officially documenting the group's powerful live performance. The two-plus-hour Live from Atlanta followed in August 2014, issued by Liberty & Lament in partnership with Ingrooves. In 2015, Lucero released their thoughtful tenth studio effort, All a Man Should Do, which included Big Star's Jody Stephens on a cover of the iconic pop band's song "I'm in Love with a Girl."

The band's ninth long-player, Among the Ghosts, arrived in 2018. Recorded live in the studio with Grammy-winning producer Matt Ross-Spang, the album marked a return to the group's sweaty bar band roots, and featured the single "To My Dearest Wife," which was inspired by letters from Civil War soldiers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Lucero's touring schedule in 2020, the band donned masks and booked time at Memphis' Sam Phillips Recording Studio, where each member performed in their own protected space. The result was the moody and emotionally charged album When You Found Me, released in July 2021 by Liberty & Lament.

(provided by Allmusic)