If the Replacements made a country record. If Kurt Cobain made a country record. These are the praises that Memphis, Tennessee’s Lucero has received in the recent past. Lucero is the sort of band that inspires grand devotion from their fans. Like Radiohead or Belle & Sebastian, there is a sense that records would still be made even if no one were listening. It’s this passion that helps to create a compelling body of work, the kind that brings about the above-mentioned devotion. And with Nobody’s Darlings, Lucero should only gather new fans to perch around the nest.
In 2003, Lucero released That Much Further West, a CD that promptly disarmed critics everywhere. Humbled by its sincerity, music scribes ignored the fact that it added nothing new to the music canon; it was merely excellent. It was actually a nice moment in criticism, one in which heart won over intellectual pretentiousness (or, more positively put, emotion won over our incessant need to hear something new).
Nobody’s Darlings, with its straightforward rock ‘n’ roll approach, further cements Lucero’s reputation as a band not only to admire, but to love. With this release, Lucero has surpassed the mark of mere idolatry (of the Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, sensitive guys who rock) and made this genre truly their own. Furthermore, as a token of the music present (as opposed to past or future), Nobody’s Darlings is a perfect complement to the Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday. It’s going too far to call it a movement (although trends are certainly fun to watch), but exciting band rock still rears its head on occasion, and without the coolness factor of punk thrown in, so enjoy it alongside your Juan Maclean. Let it make you happy.
The songs tread familiar ground beautifully. “It’s when you try to make it stay / Is when it slips away” Ben Nichols sings on “All the Same to Me”. “Nobody’s Darlings” is a heartbreaker about dreams that have reached their limits. The stunner is “Sixteen”, an ode to the Replacements that could make the worst cynic smile when the line “I am so unsatisfied” is growled. Taken together, these songs represent small-town life—a collection of dreamers, workers, and romantics searching for the best way to get through a day. Lucero’s press kit claims the band wanted to make a record that was undeniably Southern. It turns out they outdid themselves. Nobody’s Darlings brings a larger regional feel through specifics. This town is every town like it. It transcends the south or any area is would try to capture. Such is the strength of Lucero. They limit their scope to Southern Man and become Everyman with the details. They don’t reach to be philosophical; it just happens when someone intelligent speaks the truth.
But that’s not to take away from the fun nor the emotional depth. Lucero packs both into this record. Problems? There are a couple. The production is a bit murky, especially combined with the guitars and Ben Nichols’ guttural voice. The last song stands out for sounding unlike the rest of them, thereby creating a sense of unfinished business. These are forgivable flaws. What puts Nobody’s Darlings into the category of Must Hear is the sound of a man becoming a poet. Real life becomes Art. That is truly fulfilling for those who see creativity as a way to make it through life, and Lucero have just given it to the world. It’s a small gift, simply a record, but it’s enough to inspire satisfaction for the duration of the listen. How often does that happen?