Album Review – Lucero’s “Should’ve Learned By Now”
Lucero has absolutely nothing to do with country music, and everything to do with country music. The Memphis-based band only veers into the “alt-country” realm every now and then, but the songwriting of Ben Nichols has gone on to become one of the most influential forces in Southern music in the last 25 years, especially among serious songwriters. Even if a songwriter wasn’t directly influenced by Ben Nichols, another songwriter that influenced them probably was. There’s a reason the Turnpike Troubadours recently booked the band to open for them in D.C..
Early Lucero was easier to convince open-minded country fans to check out. Certain songs and albums would take on a Heartland rock or cowpunk flavor. But their last two albums Among the Ghosts (2018) and When You Found Me (2021) were much harder sells. In fact, they were harder to sell to the public, period. Hardcore Lucero fans probably still dug them, but they were just generally eclectic works, and Debby downers overall. When You Found Me was especially severe, though you could chalk it up to the pandemic, and Lucero wanting to meet that dour moment with music that reflected the times.
It turns out Lucero wasn’t just taking a turn for the more serious and somber while turning away from their more crowd pleasing material over the last two albums, they were actually purposely holding back their less serious and more sensible songs on purpose. “All that fun stuff [now] has a home!” the band said announcing this new album. “It’s time to get these songs out into the world! That’s how we got to the appropriately-for-us-titled album ‘Should’ve Learned by Now.’ The album is basically about how we know we are fuckups and I guess we are ok with that.”
With the raspy voice of Ben Nichols, and the loose and sweaty arrangements of the rest of the Lucero crew, this is a band nobody ever would accuse of sounding pretty or poppy. But one of Lucero’s greatest assets has always been finding infectious melodies to throw behind meaningful songs served with a rock style of attack and diverse instrumentation. That is what you get on Should’ve Learned By Now.
You could say this is a less serious Lucero album, or you could say this is one of the most Lucero albums Lucero’s ever released. By combining two or three albums worth of their richest material, Should’ve Learned By Now is kind of like a Greatest Hits album, only of songs you’ve never heard before. Similar to the 2022 Randy Rogers Band album Homecoming, Lucero leans into what they do best, and arguably makes their best album in years.
Bands and artists sometimes get too swept up in constantly trying to reinvent themselves and not wanting to make the same album over and over. Some even get into the territory of telling themselves that they’re not being artistic unless their alienating elements of their own fan base. This can cause an artist or band to get too far into their own heads as opposed to just leaning into what they do best, and avoiding the things they don’t.
If Should’ve Learned By Now is deficient in anything, it’s those severe, gut punching Ben Nichols songs. “One Last F.U.” is not about much more than getting mouthy at a bar. “At The Show” is about being in a band and hoping to impress a chick with your songs. “Drunken Moon” and “Time To Go Home” are worthy nightcaps and set closers, with the latter being one of the more “country” songs on the album, with the accordion giving it a little Cajun flavor. “Macon If We Make It” gives you serious Jackson Browne “Running On Empty” vibes.
If you want depressing stuff, the Lucero catalog has you covered in spades, and it’s not that the songwriting of Should’ve Learned By Now is shallow or bad. It’s just sensible. They’re telling stories to music that grabs your attention on the first listen, and reminds you why you became a Lucero fan in the first place—or if you never were a Lucero fan, compels you to listen to their discography deeper. These are all good things.
In the endless pursuit of the most sad bastard sentiments possible that much of alt-country and Americana seems to be in a competition for at the moment, the joy of music can sometimes get lost in the shuffle, or slow waltz. On Should’ve Learned By Now, Lucero reminds themselves how to have fun again, and takes the audience with them.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.2/10)
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March 10, 2023 @ 9:18 am
I can’t stop playing it. The simple story telling of “At the Show” is a hallmark moment. The whole album just makes me feel good. It’s what music is to me. Thanks for reviewing Trig, hope they gain some new fans from it.
March 22, 2023 @ 10:59 pm
It’s funny you say that “I can’t stop playing it”. I am in the same boat.
I was already aware of them. However, I never really did a deep dive. They had some songs on my constant playlist too like “Drink Tiil We’re Gone.” Then to find out today that’s a very old song and they been around for over 20 years is crazy to me.
This is the album that got me and apparently it’s all cut songs off their other albums. Goes to show you how good these dudes are. They obviously never sold out, it’s hard not to respect a band like this.
March 10, 2023 @ 9:43 am
With all of the quality being released; it becomes hard to follow along sometimes. New artists aren’t like the artists 10 years ago. When a good one popped out, you listened. It’s harder to do that now.
Thank God there is Lucero to remind us that good music existed 10 years ago, and that the bands you fell in love with are there for a reason. They changed the landscape for the younger generation, but damn … can they hold their own.
March 10, 2023 @ 11:19 am
There’s so much goddamn good music out there right now I can’t keep up. Just this morning i stumbled upon the OurVinyl session for a guy named Dylan Smucker and that shit is COUNTRY and good. this Lucero record obviously rips too. This production sounds phenomenal, everything is so god damn crisp it makes my ears feel very nice.
speaking of good country music there is a guy named jeremy R. pinnell who put out an album in 2021 called “goodbye LA” which some people are finding decent i guess some are even saying it “rips” idk but lord this coffee is doing its job i tell you that for free
Jerry Clower's Ghost
March 10, 2023 @ 1:03 pm
It’s gotten to the point where I refuse to listen to Jeremy Pinnell ever again. I used to check out his new stuff, just to see if he’s improved past his mediocre ability, but I think I’ll have to skip him from now on, just because I’ll think of your obnoxiously repetitive comments about him. Nothing personal toward you Jeremy, but you’re music is marginally listenable to begin with, so it’s a tiny loss in my musical universe.
Jerry Clower's Ghost
March 10, 2023 @ 1:04 pm
Also, these comments reached spam status a long time ago.
March 10, 2023 @ 4:09 pm
Your attitude about Pinnell says more about you than his music. You’re clearly miserable and happy being miserable. He can write a catchy melody and has one of the best voices in the business.
March 10, 2023 @ 2:59 pm
Woof. Glad to see you back, Jim – seems you destroyed Pinnell’s career.
March 10, 2023 @ 10:47 am
Probably my favorite release of the year, so far. “Time to Go Home” has been on repeat since it came out. Great review.
March 10, 2023 @ 12:33 pm
This album reminds me why Lucero will always be an all time personal favorite. Started when I heard “Nights Like These” for the first time many years ago. Agree this one is up there if not at the top so far this year. Great review Trigger and great job capturing the essence of this amazing bar band. They are the alt country version of loose and swaggering “Exile” era Stones.
March 10, 2023 @ 1:11 pm
Among The Ghosts is a balance of rockers (Everything Has Changed, For the Lonely Ones, and Among the Ghosts), and sad/love songs (To My Dearest Wife, Always Been You, Loving, etc.). A blueprint this band has had since their debut. I suggest giving ATG another shot.
Should’ve Learned by Now deserves its praise, but throwing the past couple of records under the bus is unnecessary.
March 10, 2023 @ 1:22 pm
I wasn’t throwing “Among The Ghosts” and “When You Found Me” under the bus as much as trying to explain the contrast between those to projects and this one, using Lucero’s own explanation. I did not review “Among The Ghosts” but I did “When You Found Me” and gave it a favorable review. I just think this album is one that either open-minded country fans, or folks who’ve never heard of Lucero before will find as a better entry point than the previous two. Those were more for core Lucero fans that had to patience to listen and an appreciation for Ben Nichols as a songwriter.
March 10, 2023 @ 3:05 pm
When it comes to story telling and creating characters – “Amongst The Ghosts” was probably the most country sounding of all their records.
This is the problem with Lucero; like you said: they are so uncountry, while being country. Every country fan can pick an album that is in their eyes “most country” – rowdy bar vs. songwriting.
They are, however, merely and superiorly Lucero.
March 10, 2023 @ 4:11 pm
As a diehard of Lucero since Tennessee, nothing you said is wrong here Trigger. The last 2 albums are tough entry points, even if ATG is an underrated gem of an album.
March 10, 2023 @ 8:09 pm
Tougher entry point then All A Man Should Do?
March 10, 2023 @ 8:24 pm
When You Found Me definitely is. I don’t think Among the Ghosts is, but it’s definitely darker than any of their previous albums.
March 10, 2023 @ 8:18 pm
Among The Ghosts is a great album.
March 11, 2023 @ 5:47 am
A far cry from “Debbie downer” status. Matt Ross-Spang has done a great job on the last three records.
March 11, 2023 @ 8:10 am
For some of the folks spiritedly disagreeing with my assessment of their last two albums, understand that this was the assessment of Lucero about their last albums too. They literally said they held back all of the “fun stuff” over their last two albums and put it on this one. This isn’t just an autonomous opinion shared by a critic, this was the assessment of the band itself. Also, it doesn’t mean the music is “bad” or something. “When You Found Me” received a positive review here.
March 12, 2023 @ 5:40 am
All good Trig. Love how you’re connecting all of us passionate music fans.
March 10, 2023 @ 1:13 pm
Real good review Trig and also good on pointing out on how much influence Ben and the boys has had on other musicians. Lot of people have cited them as an influence on their style. Off top of my head Turnpike as mentioned, BJ Barham, Morgan Wade, come to mind. If you’ve never seen a live Lucero show you’re missing out, they always bring it and Ben will change it on the fly if smaller show (most times) and play requests from their catalog.
March 10, 2023 @ 3:11 pm
Great Album. It’s been on constant repeat for me. I have always dug their music but this is their most complete record IMO. Not a skip on this album for me.
March 10, 2023 @ 4:17 pm
As a long time diehard, this album is incredible. Nothing’s Alright is the diamond out of a set of gems and takes me right back to That Much Further West, which should still be in any music lovers rotation 20 years after its release. The review is almost perfect, just like the album. Long live Lucero!
March 11, 2023 @ 5:49 am
Long live Lucero! amen.
March 10, 2023 @ 4:31 pm
I like this album a lot, but also love the previous two.
March 10, 2023 @ 9:49 pm
Great album, great review. This album fucks and I think Ben and the boys will enjoy touring Should’ve Learned By Now..
Well the boys… sing their songs..
And the kids…they sing along
March 11, 2023 @ 1:36 pm
New to Lucero. Loving the piano parts especially
March 11, 2023 @ 2:19 pm
Long-time Lucero fan. That much further west drew me in. The new album is great.
My quick anecdote… I’m sitting here working and have the Colorado Sound radio station playing (via internet). A song comes on and for just second I thought it was off the Replacements’ “All Shook Down” album (which I like a lot). But, no, it was track#2 “Lucero If We Make It” and, dang, it sounds fine.
I’ll be seeing them live in early April; go Lucero!
March 11, 2023 @ 3:53 pm
The album Tennessee will also hold a special place in my heart and classic. I’m just glad to see these guys are still going. Looking forward to listening to this one.
March 11, 2023 @ 8:42 pm
Tennessee was my introduction to Lucero 20 years ago. One of the few albums that takes me back immediately.
March 11, 2023 @ 8:43 pm
gk, I loved the ‘Mats’ reference. I saw Lucero open at Midway Stadium for the Replacements (my all time favorite band’s)reunion tour.
Lucero is an incredible live act. I plan to see them next month.
If any of you are familiar with Cormac McCarthy’s magnum opus…Blood Meridian…Check out Ben Nichols solo LP… Last Pale Light in the West!
March 13, 2023 @ 6:44 am
Thanks Trigger, you hit the nail on the head for me on what genre Lucero plays in and what I thought about their last 2 albums. I’ve only heard 2 songs so far from this album and it sounds awesome. I won’t however go to a live show again. Saw them in 2019 at Ryman and Ben got so hammered off shots from the audience he forgot the words to many songs towards the end and just sort of hummed along at times. The band however was tight and sounded so good in that hall.
March 14, 2023 @ 5:29 pm
Ha, there’s a line in Should’ve Learned By Now for you.
March 14, 2023 @ 4:49 am
Great review. I loved the All a Man Should Do album. This feels like a return to that in tone. Well done Ben and the gang. I’ll be looking out for them the next time they tour in the UK.