Lucero: Should’ve Learned By Now [Album Review]

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Should’ve Learned By Now
Liberty & Lament/Thirty Tigers [2023]

If that sturdy, fast drumbeat that opens Lucero’s new album doesn’t convince you they mean business by the time the crunchy rhythm guitars fall into place, perhaps that cowbell will do the trick. That sound, which conjures the classic rock ghost of “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, is an announcement that this Memphis-band came to rock, and that cowbell is back on every chorus of “One Last F.U.,” an “I’ll see you, I wouldn’t want to be you” send off for the books. They follow it with a second rocker, one with a Southern rock pedigree, that shows up as much in Brian Venable’s bluesy guitar lines and Rick Steff’s organ chops as it does in singer Ben Nichols’ lyrics about racing a hurricane across Georgia, “Macon If We Make It.”

On Should’ve Learned By Now, the band’s 12th album, Lucero leans into the mid-western rootsy, Americana and blue-collar rock & roll that came to define their hometown. Tracks like “She Leads Me,” “Raining for Weeks,” and “Drunken Moon” lean toward country rock influences, Sheff’s piano somewhere between the honky-tonk and the Baptist Gospel church choir. On the first track, a woman’s song leads me “where there is a place for us both,” while the second describes a relationship coming to an end, and the last is a ballad about “finding my way through the dark… by the light of a drunken moon,” which means “I don’t know where daylight will find me.”

So, maybe there’s some sadness because “we should’ve learned life’s lessons by now,” and because “Nothing’s Alright” since “she walked out the door.” But Lucero isn’t maudlin, tipping a hat in the direction of Springsteen with a song about that youthful hope of meeting a girl “At the Show.” And who can stay sad when all one needs to do to “make it up” is to “Buy a Little Time,” which proves to be another barn-burner in the classic rock tradition, with a smart gritty rhythm guitar break mid-song, the kicking rhythm section of bassist John C. Stubblefield and drummer Roy Berry ready to kick it into a higher gear. Venable’s screaming guitar solo is balanced against the finesse of Steff’s fast piano runs and fills, Nichols’ lead vocals enhanced by Matt Ross-Spang’s production and a touch of reverb, so it all feels like a live rock band in the mold of Mellencamp, only this time it hurts just right.

In the bluesy title track, Venable leans into the Southern rock vibe bring bluesy souring guitar screams to match the Skynyrd feel of Nichols’ vocals about “me and the devil in the middle of the night.” And the album closes just as it’s “Time to Go Home,” a good old boy’s country drinking song with the feel of early Lucero tapping those all to comfortable roots in rich accordion sounds, bringing the soulful blend of rhythm and soul that is Memphis.

“One Last F.U.” / “Buy A Little Time” / “Macon If We Make It”

Drive-By Truckers / The Hold Steady / Aaron Lee Tasjan

When You Found Me (2021) / Among The Ghosts (2018) / All A Man Should Do (2015) / Live From Atlanta (2014)

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