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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