Album Review – Lucero’s “When You Found Me”
Lucero has never really been a country band, and their latest record Where You Found Me perhaps travels farther afield from their alt-country-Southern-rock-punk-Americana past than ever before. But you’d still be hard pressed to run into a songwriter worth their salt that doesn’t cite this Memphis band’s frontman Ben Nichols as an influence of some sort, primary or secondary. And the release of a new album still sends reverberations throughout the roots world, so much so that a fairly dedicated country music site feels compelled to remark on it.
Like many wildly-influential outfits, one of the ways they maintain this status is by never staying the same. As the emulators rise up within their wake, it becomes a requisite for them to morph and search for muses in different corners not just unfamilar to themselves, but to everyone else. Sameness is what will hasten their expiration date, not a lack of new hits. Any “hits” Lucero may have had in the past were more by mistake anyway. This is not a hit band. They are like the Radiohead of Southern music. They lead the way.
Songwriting is always what underpinned the Lucero appeal, and it still does for the most part. But age and circumstances mean the sheer desperation and hunger that lends to some of the most devastating and insightful songs of a nascent career may not always be there in subsequent decades, at least as in ample measures as they are in leaner times when you’re out to make your name. So it takes a bit more style, composition, and imagination to keep things fresh and inspired in the later stages of a career, for both the creators and the audience.
It is under these circumstances you find the very ambient and immersive experience that When You Found Me is cast in. Cinematic in scope and approach, you feel like you’re pixelated into the very frames of a dark, graphic novel rendered in anime—one where daybreak never comes, and the resolution isn’t some epiphanous moment of light and love, but simply a moment of rest from the endless struggle. Dystopian, but strangely familiar and nostalgic, and comforting.
Dark colors are what Lucero use to shade in the details, while old school synths set ambient moods beneath the guitar, bass, and drum approach. That doesn’t mean that unclothed, some of these tracks aren’t sketches of country songs, specifically “Coffin Nails” and “Back In Ohio.” But this particular effort is more about doleful, atmospheric mournfulness and longing that the dedicated songcraft of specific songs.
Strangely though, some of the writing takes a thankful, and hopeful perspective, especially at the end. The loose sketch of a story of loss or abandonment is presented throughout the record, but ends with being found. Admitting that he’s in a happy place with his wife and daughter Izzy, perhaps Ben Nichols had to work in dark, muted colors, or risk making a record of “Zip-a-Dee-Dooh-Dah.” The ending title track reminds one of the late 80’s hit “Under The Milky Way” by The Church, but turns out to be the warm place the rest of the album yearns for. It’s a song Ben Nichols sings to daughter Izzy as a lullaby.
In no way complacent, predictable, or formulaic, Lucero turns in a visionary and inventive effort, even if you have to be in the right mood or receptive to this approach for the spell to work on you. If you’re a country fan and a country fan only, you may not even want to bother. But those that bought into the ethos of Lucero long ago might find their next favorite record from the band. Still, the fey nature of When You Found Me presents the album’s biggest challenge, and one that it’s not the audience’s fault if they can’t find favor with.
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February 8, 2021 @ 10:06 am
I thought you nailed this review Trig and I am glad you’re giving Lucero some attention.
I’ve been following Lucero for about 10 years now and like many of their fans, I thought Ben Nichols would never really grow up-he would always be a heartbroken, whiskey drinking crooner, at his best lamenting about his mistakes…but then something happened where he did kind of grow up. How does the best live bar band of all time? It’s really tricky. I thought they captured it perfectly on moments of their last album, Among the Ghosts but missed on others like What A Man Should Do. It’ll be interesting to see where this album falls. Right now, it seems pretty boring but I hope that will change with time for me.
Either way, I strongly urge people to go out and see these guys when concerts are a thing again. You will not be disappointed. Ben Nichols is the person and performer we wish so many of our favorite frontmen were.
February 8, 2021 @ 4:53 pm
So it seems like they’ve done quite a few internet concerts, the kind of thing where you pay 15 bucks for a live stream, not just a YouTube living room show or whatever. So obviously not the same thing as seeing them live in person but they’re still gigging.
North Woods Country
February 8, 2021 @ 8:26 pm
I have to admit, I do not understand the criticisms some have of All a Man Should Do. That album connected with me as much as Southeastern and the only other album in that conversation is Dying Star. Those 3 albums were the best of thr 2010s of what I listened to. Granted, I’m partial to extremely sad music, so maybe that’s why I love All a Man Should Do so much.
February 8, 2021 @ 9:06 pm
For me, All A Man Should Do was sleepy and lacked the grit and authenticity their other work did. I also thought it was some of Ben’s worst songwriting. I almost feel like it was the transition period of him being an absolute road warrior to him getting married and having a kid. They also play hardly any of the songs live now which I feel like is telling on how they feel about it..
My LUCERO power rankings albums
2. 1372 Overton park
3. Rebels Rogues, etc
4. Nobody’s Darlings
5. Women and Work
6. That much further west
6. Among the Ghosts (the highs are almost as high as anything but I feel some songs are overproduced)
7. Self titled
8. Attic Tapes
9. All a Man should do
(EP Texas and Tennessee is top 5 for me). Live from Atlanta is damn good too.
Just my opinion. That and 50 cents might get you a cup of gas station coffee. Not sure what these last 10 years of 25-35 have been in my life (emerging extended adulthood)? but goddamn, Lucero has been the soundtrack for me and helped me through the lows and the highs , so forgive me for the long post!
February 9, 2021 @ 7:47 am
I can’t argue much with this list although I probably have listened to Women and Work the most. Severely under-rated band. I have seen them twice live and they were killer one night and really good the other time.
February 9, 2021 @ 10:41 am
Maybe I need to give it another shot? Sometimes timing is everything and it could be a good Covid record for me…What songs are your favorites from the album?
February 9, 2021 @ 4:44 pm
My favorite band of all time, have seen them more times live than I could begin to count, and spent more time spinning their vinyl in my basement while drinking even more. Women and Work over TMFW is insanity. I’ve been a fan since Tennessee, so my list is usually skewed towards the old stuff, versus the new stuff like most other longtime fans. Women and Work is also not highly thought of by many, and even the band has said they lost some of their direction on that album. Here’s my list 1/2 are almost tied and 3-7 are very close for me with a big drop off to 8-10.
3. Self Titled
4. Among the Ghosts
5. Nobody’s Darlings
6. Rebels, Rogues
8. All a Man Should Do
9. Attic Tapes
10. Women and Work
Agreed on your sentiments of T&T and the live album.
February 9, 2021 @ 9:22 am
“All a Man Should Do” is a damn masterpiece. I think it is probably my most played of theirs next to “Nobody’s Darlings.”
North Woods Country
February 9, 2021 @ 12:50 pm
Exactly how I feel about it. Stellar album.
February 12, 2021 @ 11:05 am
Damn great album. Baby, Don’t You Want Me? is one of my absolute favorite songs by them. Can’t even count how many times I’ve played that on the local jukebox
February 8, 2021 @ 10:39 am
Hmm….where to start? Ive commented often on this band, so i’ll try not to repeat myself excessively. Live, these guys can be quite the rocking experience. Depends on the night and Bens mood. Saw them numerous times and no two shows are alike. I particularly liked the Overton Park and Rebels Rogues albums and tours. I for one loved the horns. Jim Spake is amazing.
Tenneesee had some great songwriter material, though it wasnt a great rocker. Women and Work had some great moments and the boys got melodic on that one, something the early work lacked a bit.
This one has some compelling songwriting for sure. The synths are a turnoff and that effect behind Bens voice is a bit much imo. I wish they would just fully embrace the southern rock sounds that they have been so good with in times past. This new sound is weird to my ear. I do think some of the songs are so good that i will likely get into them fully, and perhaps overlook the quirky aspects. Im glad Bens still writing intriguing songs. Time will tell where this one stacks up in the catalog.
February 8, 2021 @ 3:44 pm
Better than sturgill effort at accomplishing the same thing lol.
Cool Lester Smooth
February 8, 2021 @ 4:00 pm
Speaking of Americana-adjacent artists…have you heard “Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!” yet?
I finally get what Kacey and Margo were going for on their last albums, haha…difference is, Aaron isn’t playing dressup, and he has the guitar skills to pull that sound off.
February 9, 2021 @ 10:02 am
“I broke up with my boyfriend, so I can go out with my girlfriend”
– with an 80’s synthesizer behind it
Are you sure that you are on the right blog?
Cool Lester Smooth
February 9, 2021 @ 10:49 am
A) That’s one song on.
B) Still more country than Sound and Fury, most of Golden Hour, or Margo’s latest.
C) If you’ve ever seen Tasjan live, you know that he very much slots into this site’s purview. Dude absolutely shreds, and he’s a hell of a songwriter.
He featured on the latest Ray Wylie Hubbard album (on guitar, too!)…and John Baumann’s biggest song to date is a Tasjan cover.
February 8, 2021 @ 6:55 pm
I notice 80’s style Synth creeping into Alt Country/Americana recently. I am not talking about Sturgill Simpson but Isbell, American Aquarium come to mind. Mostly way in the background. I just can’t get into this album because of the 80’s vibe they are trying to pull off. The music and lyrics sound tired to me and it just not Dirty enough for me. I had to rinse my ears out with Tennessee on first listen
February 8, 2021 @ 7:39 pm
Back In Ohio is based on the true story of William Alexander Morgan and his time in Cuba. I’d never heard of him until Lucero uploaded an illustrated music video of the song on YouTube. Very interesting story, worth checking out. I love songs about real history. And they had another great historical song To My Dearest Wife, which I think is about Pickett’s Charge, on their previous album.
February 9, 2021 @ 6:31 pm
I’ve been listening to Lucero since Tennesse came out and they are my favorite band. Tennessee is my favorite record. Followed by Women and Work. (Blasphemy according to some I guess). I’m not sure what’s next. But this latest one wouldn’t be too far down the list that’s for sure. I like it a lot. Especially Back In Ohio and the title track. Lots of other good ones too.
February 9, 2021 @ 9:04 pm
To all those making album lists
TEXAS AND TENNESSEE
I know it’s an EP but it’s once of their best efforts ever. I got into them when they used to play punk gigs with avail.
February 9, 2021 @ 10:04 pm
Huge huge fan, and I’ll keep my rankings to myself.
However, will share that the new album is extraordinary in way. With “The Match”, it includes possibly the worst song they have recorded.
Wilson Pick It
February 10, 2021 @ 7:40 am
Good band. I couldn’t get into them at first but they recently played in my town and I decided to check it out. The live experience definitely won me over. I’ll check out this new album.