For years, Lucero has been considered by some to be an alt-country band. But ask Lucero frontman Ben Nichols about the label, and it’s obvious he always saw his band in a different light.
“When we started we got lumped in with the alt-country stuff,” Nichols says. “And for sure there’s a Southern accent to what we do, and I think that’s the main reason. And we’re not offended by being included with that genre, but I think from the very beginning there was always something else in there. We say punk rock, which [guitarist] Brian [Venable] and I definitely were fans of before the band, but we’re also huge indie rock fans. At least in my brain, there’s just as much Archers Of Loaf in there as Johnny Cash or Ryan Adams or whatever.”
The talk of stylistic labels is timely these days because 1372 Overton Park, the seventh and newest CD from Lucero since the band formed in 1998, shows that the group is not going to be limited to a genre and isn’t afraid to steer its music in new directions.
The Memphis-based band decided to explore the music that most defines its hometown, bringing a strong dose of classic soul into its rocking sound.
One way the band did this was by adding horns, which were arranged by Jim Spake, one of the leading figures on the Memphis music scene, a musician who has worked with Al Green, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and a host of other notable artists.
But to Nichols the soul influence goes deeper than the use of horns. The B-3 organ work of Steff also gives several songs a soulful accent. And Nichols credits producer Ted Hutt for helping to bring out some of the more subtle soul elements on 1372 Overton Park by pushing the band to add bridges and other song structure elements that enhanced the soulful feel of some songs.
The presence of a proactive producer like Hutt was something new for Lucero as well. While the band has worked with producers before — notably the late Jim Dickinson on the 2005 CD, Nobody’s Darlings — the band gave Hutt (who’s known for his work with the Gaslight Anthem) plenty of latitude to offer his expertise.
“He was always very opinionated, and it was a new experience for us,” he says. “Everybody had to give up a little bit of control and have a little bit of faith in kind of going with Ted’s direction. That was a new thing for us that me and guys had to get used to. Everybody is really happy in the end with the results.”
Nichols and his bandmates, Venable, drummer Roy Berry and bassist John C. Stubblefield, have plenty of reason to be happy with 1372 Overton Park, which is named after the address of a house that until this album had served as headquarters for the band, as well as the residence for all four group members at various points over the years.
But for all of the talk about Memphis soul, 1372 Overton Park is still primarily a rock ’n’ roll album in the gritty tradition of past Lucero albums, as songs like “Sounds Of The City,” “What Are You Willing To Lose” and “Smoke” set the tone for the album — along with Nichols’ gravelly vocals.
The horns, though, are a major presence, adding a layer of soul to the many more rock-oriented songs and deepening the soulful feel of songs like “The Devil And Maggie Chascarrillo,” “Goodbye Again” and “Sixes And Sevens,” a strutting track that is steeped in soul from top to bottom.
“It’s territory that we hadn’t gone into before,” Nichols says of “Sixes And Sevens.” “But you’ve got that crazy B-3 sound on there. Then combined with the horns, it’s a rock ’n’ roll song definitely rooted in kind of jump R&B in a way, at least as close as we’re going to get to it.”
Lucero is able to recreate the soulful tones of 1372 Overton Park in its live show. The group has a pair of horn players for its current tour. Also on board are Steff and pedal steel player Todd Beene, who have essentially become band members.
Nichols likes the way the band’s live show has progressed with the additional musicians.
“It’s been really freeing, I guess, adding these other elements. It allows us to go to different places musically than before,” he says. “Yeah, we’ve got Rick Steff on the piano. The addition of him alone, it really made the band more confident overall. And it definitely added another layer to what the show does, so it’s worked out really well live.”
On the Bill
Lucero plays the Bluebird Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 5. Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Chad Price and Jon Snodgrass open. Tickets are $22 in advance, $25 day of show. 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-322-2308.