Apr
6

Review – Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – “Wasted”

April 6, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  26 Comments

It might be true that we would never know Lukas Nelson from Adam if his pops wasn’t the almighty braided one, but this might be more of a commentary on the parody and glut of music the American consumer must sift through to satiate their music wants rather than a commentary on Lukas’s talents. Because as far as talent goes, Lukas got an unfair share of the heavy persuasion for any family. Nearly everyone of Willie Nelson’s kiddos is musical in one way or another, but for being the singular talent whose name could carry weight autonomous from any bloodline, Lukas Nelson may be the best model.

At the same time, Lukas Nelson may be the offspring most rich with Willie familiarity and blood. With the risk of taking you back to the awkwardness of health class, Shotgun Willie must have been shooting off some strong swimmers on that enchanted evening. If you’ve ever wanted to know what might have happened if Willie Nelson had moved to Austin and became Willie & The Acid Eaters, Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real might be a good indication. Lukas’s voice is uncannily Willie, without aping it whatsoever, just the natural, high-register tone with perfect pitch and control that tends to decay in a warble at the end of phrases just like pops. Close your eyes when this album is spinning, and you can almost pretend you’re hearing what rock n’ roll Willie would be.

And then you get to Lukas’s guitar playing, an attribute all his own. He very well may be an outright guitar god in the making. The younger Nelson can flat out shred with marvelous taste, which is a good thing for a young man trying to shed the shadow of a legendary father so knucklehead music writers quit making references to it all the time and just focus on him.

Lukas Nelson promises the “real”, and brings it in Wasted. In a genre in the midst of an identity crisis, Lukas & The Promise of the Real lay rock n’ roll down real and simple, with a blues base and other influences like country and reggae intertwined for color. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear rock music that just rocks instead of getting distracted by image and trend like so much of the indie rock and metal finds itself in the midst of today. There are some purely country moments on the album and steel guitar makes its appearances. But don’t mistake it, Lukas Nelson is rock.

And don’t mistake this for jam band music either. I know, the imagery surrounding Lukas and the songs about marijuana might make you think this is the second coming of The Greatful Dead or something, and for sure there is some “jamming” that goes on here, but Lukas & Co. do a great job keeping the music grounded and in a sustainable pocket that allows creativity and skill to be showcased, without sacrificing timing or accessibility. There’s a great balance to this music. This album is about as long as you can fit on a CD, almost74 minutes, and never sags.

I do have a few beefs to get off my chest about Wasted, like the ever-present percussionist on the album. Don’t get me wrong, Tato Melgar is great, and I can’t complain about any performance specifically, its more the overall presence throughout the album. I’m all for percussionists in music; I think there needs to be more of them in fact, but sometimes the best thing for a percussionist to do in a song is nothing. Other times he just may need to play a shaker or tambourine for part of a song. And specifically the overuse of the “chimes” on Wasted is a little too much. Chimes can be cool, but they can be mistaken for overproduction as well.

The other issue is the overuse of marijuana as a lyrical theme. I get it, Lukas smokes pot. So do many Americans, and it may make a good theme for a few songs, but when it shows up so much it begins to typecast the music, especially when Lukas is already using such heavy “hippie” imagery on an album called “Wasted”. For example, the song “The Joint”. It’s too obvious, and clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, it’s not a pot anthem, it is a pot epic. Same can be said for the 9-minute “Don’t Take Me Back”:

I was sitting in my daddy’s car, with a joint in both of my hands. Smoking till the smoke wouldn’t stop, and the window rolled down and I’m rolling around in my mind.

Pot and drug references are a common element in most of popular American music these days, but when no subtly or even humor is used, it can come across as immature and polarizing, very akin to political elements in music. As allusions to truth or culture, pot references are fine, if not necessary. But when they become a vehicle for identity, image, or marketing, you can cross a line, and though I don’t think Lukas crosses over any of those lines specifically, he crosses the line generally with the volume of pot references. This music is just too good to “waste” on folks who will look at the title, the imagery, and unfairly typecast Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real as drug music.

Maybe it was cool when The Black Crowes used the marijuana sheik motiff back in the 90′s, but even then, and even with bands like The Grateful Dead and even Bob Marley, they rarely, if ever sung about pot. They didn’t need to, it was redundant to their audience.

But I am not going to let those concerns get in my way of good music, and my suggestion to you is to do the same. You should also understand the context in which these songs were written, while Lukas was on tour last summer, spending lots of time in a back of a bus, thinking about the meaning of time and purpose and how both can be “Wasted”. There is some depth to this album, the “Wasted” theme and even the marijuana songs, I just wish that depth was a little more transparent, and the pot references a little more veiled.

Put all that aside, there’s some great songs, and great moments all over this album; the reggae vibe of the opening track “The Golden Rule”, the almost Guns & Roses, hard rock vibe of “Old Familiar Pain”, the way the sweet “Frame of Mind” showcases Nelson’s vocal mastery, how “Wasn’t That Great” showcases his mad guitar skills. “Can You Hear Me Love You” is the hauntingly beautiful songwriter showcase of the album, and possibly its best track. The album slows down as it goes along, but the thematic substance crests as you near the end.

Lukas Nelson has “it”, that combination of energy, charm, talent, ear, and taste that creates a singular artist worthy of his own praise, not addled by any asterisk-laden references to who daddy is or anything else, and The Promise of the Real behind him is super solid. I can confidently say that Lukas Nelson and Wasted will not be a “waste” of your time or your money (though this last sentence is a complete “waste” of my writing skills).

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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26 Comments to “Review – Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – “Wasted””

  • First time I’ve actually listened to Lukas Nelson. Crazy how much he sounds like his dad while still having his own style. Definitely gonna be picking this one up.

    Thanks, Trig.

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    • The band performed tonight in seal beach, ca and they were horrible. Lukas looked strung out and crowd was not listening besides the 40 tour groupie followers. Wilies 1988 tour bus was spewing diesel fumes over the beach crowd. Chamber if commerce who paid for band wasted $.

      Seal beach crowd will be biggest audience this band gets besides willies concert.

      Suggestion: acknowledge you’re will

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  • Cool review, dude. I think I’m gonna go get Wasted.

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  • I saw him open for BB. King. It was great. He got up there and jammed with the king himself for a bit at the end.

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  • I saw him play for about 3 1/2 hours a month ago in San Francisco. The talent this guy has is nothing short of unbelievable. I was pretty much in awe and I think I finally broke out laughing when he put the show over the top doing a 2 minute solo in “Hoochie Coochie”…..with his teeth.

    Also, I read lately that he’s taken to approaching his music with the sternness that has him avoiding exposure to pot smoke and he’s quit drinking. A 24 year old, with a clean-living, (semi) clear-eyed perspective, and unmeasurable talent? – I think Lukas Nelson is going to be doing a loooooot of damage in the rest of his career.

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    • no drugs or booze? take the reins, young man. buena suerte.

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  • Only 74 minutes can fit on a pressed cd not 120. That being said, really looking forward to hearing this album, and also the next Willie release “Heroes” where Lukas and Willie cover Pearl Jam’s song “Just Breathe”.

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    • I think the problem was I thought there were 100 minutes in an hour. :(

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  • Art is art. He should be able to write about smoking weed if he wants to. Bob Marley DID sing about smoking weed and was pictured smoking huge joints all the time. Peter Tosh wrote an entire album called “Legalize it”. Lukas only has two weed references on the entire album, and the pot epic he wrote “Lete me Smoke my pipe”, is a plea for people to lighten up about weed. You prove his point when you get uptight about it. Let him smoke his pipe. And sing about it. That’s the beauty of America.

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    • Alright well first, nobody is saying Lukas can’t write what he wants to. I know Bob Marley sang about smoking weed, but he didn’t do it nearly as much as Lukas Nelson has done. That was the point I made, and I know Peter Tosh was in Bob Marley’s band, but Peter’s name was not brought up at all. There are WAY more than 2 weed references on this album. There are two songs whose lyrics primarily deal with pot, and they are the longest songs on the album. There are at least a dozen references just with those two songs. Maybe you meant there are just two songs, but that’s not true either because there are other songs that mention pot on the album as well. I’m not going to go back and count them because that will make me feel dumb, but trust me, they are there. Also the title of the pot epic is not “Let(e) Me Smoke My Pipe”, it is “The Joint”.

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      • And still not having heard the album, I think the pot references may be a turn off for me. I have no problem with people smoking pot at all, it’s just that Willie has kinda overused the pot references for the last couple years, and it’s kinda put a bad taste in my mouth.. So my thought on reading this is that maybe Lukas is overusing this also, IDK, I’ll listen and decide for myself. Great talent is great talent… No need to tell me about dirt roads or that you like to get high, just display your talent and I will enjoy and support.

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  • Also, you see the depth of the album when you follow what he has been saying in interviews and really listen to the lyrics. I like how it can seem shallow at first if you don’t actually pay attention. To me that reflects on many things in real life..and it can cause people to think before they judge people right off the bat. I think he knows exactly what he was doing when he wrote this album. He wants the piss off all the right people…

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    • “Also, you see the depth of the album when you follow what he has been saying in interviews and really listen to the lyrics. I like how it can seem shallow at first if you don’t actually pay attention. To me that reflects on many things in real life..and it can cause people to think before they judge people right off the bat.”

      I agree, but I also do not think an album or a song or a lyrical line should have to depend on an autonomous interview that people may or may not read that listen to this music and get the true meaning. Conversely, an artist has to assume the listener knows nothing about them unless they are a top tier celebrity. Also apparently there is some conflicting information coming from those interviews, because as the commenter Beaumont pointed out up above, Lukas has gotten sober and now completely avoids pot smoke.

      As I said in the review:

      But I am not going to let those concerns get in my way of good music, and my suggestion to you is to do the same. You should also understand the context in which these songs were written, while Lukas was on tour last summer, spending lots of time in a back of a bus, thinking about the meaning of time and purpose and how both can be “Wasted”. There is some depth to this album, the “Wasted” theme and even the marijuana songs, I just wish that depth was a little more transparent, and the pot references a little more veiled.”

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  • If Willie and Bob Dylan had a baby he would sound like Lukas Nelson. Some good songs but some real stinkers…”Wasted” (the song) is painful.

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  • I still just don’t agree that singing about pot should be a turn off. I applaud him for not caring about what others might say. I’m sure he knew about the flak he would get…I think there need to be more artists out there who come right out and say what they feel, rather than making “subtle references”..The song “The Joint” is #1 on Red Dirt Radio..and a lot of my friends know all the words and song along. The laws governing pot are stupid and I applaud his openness about it. He stands for what he believes in..especially the fact that he doesn’t smoke now makes me think that he wants to be more clear headed even as he joins the ranks of those fighting for the legalization of weed in the country. This country was founded on people being defiant in the face of dumb laws, even to the chagrin of contemporaries..to sacrifice the approval of many for a cause you believe in is the most American thing you can do.

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    • I can’t disagree with any of this. I think in spirit we are both on the same page, as Lukas Nelson supporters, and as people that think marijuana should be legalized, or at least decriminalized for god sakes.

      Something I think you should understand is I raised the concern about all the pot references and such in this review because I anticipated a backlash from them, just as you assert Lukas may have, and as can be seen in comments above. Instead of ignoring what I know is going to be a big contingent of folks who will take issue with all the pot talk, I brought it out in the open, created a dialogue about it, and attempt to talk people through it and convince them that even if they’re not pot smokers and are turned off by that whole scene, that they breathe through their reactionary response and still give the music a chance. I understand this may seem unconventional, but that truly was my intention.

      Furthermore you say “The Joint” is top on Red Dirt Radio. I’m not surprised by this at all. Why? Because pot sells songs. It is easy, it is obvious. And it makes 15-24 year-old males go nuts over songs like this. When you break it all down, “The Joint” is a love song to pot. If you replaced pot with a female name, nobody would give a shit about that song except for the people really wanting to listen to it, and it certainly would not be #1 on Red Dirt Radio. It’s too obvious, to cliche, and Lukas should be better than that. Some songwriters like Eric Church and Kid Rock have to use pot as a crutch to make up for mild songwriting. Lukas Nelson doesn’t, and shouldn’t. I think it will bring him some short-term success, but hurt him in the end by typecasting him.

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  • And one more thing to add, in respect to your review, which I truly feel was well put together despite my issue that we are contending. I will re-quote you thusly

    “But I am not going to let those concerns get in the way of good music, and my suggestion to you is you do the same”

    I take issue with this because you wrote quite extensively about the pot issue. It seemed to almost hit a nerve with you. You are right, there are many Americans. Who proudly smoke pot, and many more are unfairly imprisoned because of it. I looked back at the album, and there are 14 songs on it..only two or three mention weed in any way. If you really didn’t want to let it get in the way of good music, and your intention was to bring this music forward so that more people could hear it, why then did you make it such a prominent issue in the review? It bothered you so much that he sings about weed unashamedly that you felt the need to express it with examples and such..
    It seems to me that Lukas was going through a time in his life that was rough and wanted to be honest about it. Did you really need to “warn” potential listeners of the references? If the positives outweigh the negatives by such a large margin, why give so much attention (a few paragraphs) to the negatives? It is a common issue I have with most critics..and I challenge you match your words with your opinion perhaps with better balance next time..
    Having said that..I hope people are singing the Joint in the jubilant crowd outside the supreme court when the country finally legalizes that precious medicine for the soul. The fact that it isn’t legal is an American tragedy filled with corporate corruption and slander that dates back to the early 20th century..

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    • This is a good point, and it did touch a nerve with me, and I totally understand how it could look out of place to go on for three paragraphs about it in a review, and that fact was not lost on me when I was writing it. I will fully admit, pot references in songs are a pet peeve of mine, meaning I have an admittedly unfair reaction to it, even more than I do to references to harder drugs, violence, or the devil. But this has absolutely nothing to do with my stance on pot politically, it has to do with weed being overused as a marketing tool in music and other popular culture. You want to get boys and young men to pay attention to your music? Sing about weed. It’s that simple, and Lukas is too good to be that simplistic, advertently or inadvertently. Yes, sing about what you know, and maybe that was what Lukas was doing, but he needed to be a little more wise in how this would be perceived by the general public, in my opinion.

      I’m telling you, all these pot references in songs are going to feel severely dated in 10-15 years. People will be making fun of them just like people make fun of hair metal now. It’s a trend. When you see super popular artists singing about it, that’s how you know it’s at the top of the cycle, ready to fall. Should people be in prison because of pot? Of course not. But in the end, it’s a pretty insipid subject for a song. I feel confident time will expose and prove this.

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      • I have to disagree with you about pot songs becoming outdated in 10 years. Reason being, people aren’t going to stop smoking weed in the next 10 years. As long as its a part of american culture, I don’t see songs about it going out of style any more than songs about alcohol will go out of style. I haven’t smoked pot in 6 years but I still really enjoy the music about it. It makes me feel nostalgic for simpler times I guess. As far as Lucas Nelson goes, I think his pure talent will elevate him above becoming just a guy who sings stoner songs. Same as his old man

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      • “Yes, sing about what you know, and maybe that was what Lukas was doing, but he needed to be a little more wise in how this would be perceived by the general public, in my opinion.”… This is coming from a Hank III fan? That made me shake my head. All joking aside, Lukas is an amazingly talented individual. When you watch him live you can just see the music and passion spewing out of every pore in his body. It seems like every note he plays or sings started somewhere deep within his core and is just exploding outwards. I don’t know if that made any sense at all but hopefully you get the point. I have not checked this new album out yet but was, and still am, very impressed with his last album, Promise of the Real (also his band name). Seeing him live was just the icing on the cake. Thanks for the review and the heads up.

        PS… I always come to these discussions late. Such a shame.

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  • Ok, then we have come to a crossroads. This is where, fundamentally, you and I disagree. The fact that it is not legal yet has made pot a subject of the people. It will not be made fun of because as long is it is illegal, there are going to be those out there that appreciate others with the bravery to stand up and be a voice for reason. The song was too well written and produced to be just something people make fun of down the line..and even in 10-15 years, when it is legal (if that ever happens) the song will be remembered as part of the culture that opposed an unfair law..
    You have to remember how much flak those who speak the truth often take…If the 15-24 year old boys are listening to it, good. Maybe they will vote now for someone who will make pot legal in their state. Nobody is going to make fun of someone
    singing about weed unless they oppose it. And I don’t think Lukas wants or cares or the approval of those people anyways..he grew up with a culture that supports marijuana…Willie and others sing about weed because they like it and believe in it. Some may dismiss it, sure, but those are the ones Lukas singing against on that song anyways..
    At least he’s not writing crappy pop music or conforming to some mainstream norm that lacks depth at all!

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  • EXCELLENT review! I often use your reviews as a “2nd opinion” when deciding what new songs or artists to add to Skydog’s Red Dirt Radio…you’ve never steered me wrong.

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  • Another great review! I did notice one minor mistake, the band actually spelled it Grateful (as opposed to Greatful) Dead.

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  • I don’t smoke pot, never even tried it, and the album didn’t bother me at all.
    “The Joint” is about smoking pot, but if you look deeper, it is about freedom. Same as many of the references in the album. Lukas (and many others) may use pot as that cornerstone of “freedom” so he writes about it. But it isn’t about pot…open your mine a bit and look deeper into the music.

    We’re going to see a lot more from Shooter, Johnson and Lukas as they are changing the scene.

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