Lukas Nelson is having fun, at least on record. While the singer-songwriter announced last year that he had given up booze to pursue a healthier lifestyle, his new album, Sticks and Stones, is full of party songs with titles such as” Alcohallelujah” and “Every Time I Drink”. Well, those songs may not exactly be happy. They fit into the Saturday evening/Sunday morning country music tradition, where fun and regret are part of the experience. But the mood is always jovial. He may be drunk but not too drunk to fornicate, although his wife is tired of boozy sex, and every time he takes to the bottle, he still thinks of his absent lover.
Despite the mixed messages of the words, the music on Sticks and Stones suggests life is good. There’s a buoyancy to the songs that roll more than rock and move from track to track like a train with a club car. In tracks like “Ladder of Love”, “Wrong House”, and “Overpass”, the rhythm of the rails overtakes the lyrical concerns in importance. The instruments drive the songs.
“I run just to see my tail,” Nelson sings on “Icarus”, and he does seem to be always moving. But like his namesake, the protagonist doesn’t always know where he’s going. Sticks and Stones moves haphazardly from one song to the next. That shagginess is part of the record’s charm. It’s like listening to a jukebox of classic country songs that sound familiar but contemporary simultaneously. The cuts may vary in style. One can hear echoes from past masters (Hank Williams, Bob Wills), but Nelson and company add a joyful touch to the proceedings. Even the one really sad song, the acoustic “Lying”, Nelson’s voice and guitar picking suggest the pleasure in self-pity. Desire in and of itself can be a good thing.
Nelson wrote every track on Sticks and Stones, which was co-produced by him and POTR. The lyrics seem to be its weakest part. Although the words can be clever, the singer-songwriter seems to have nothing to say. Sometimes, this works to his advantage, as on “Alcohallejuah” when he conveniently leaves out the action verb and still maintains the f-sound with: “Caught a little luck / The door’s a little stuck / Maybe ‘fore we leave the truck / We can have a real quick.”
The omission after “real quick” is the funniest line on Sticks and Stones by not being said. As Nelson sings in the title song, words are… well, just words. He and the band are here to make the listener feel good. The implicit message is life may have its ups and downs. Others may try and hurt you. It’s important to remember the good things. If one can enjoy oneself, go for it. Sticks and Stones is designed to help you reach your happiness goals. Party on! Others may call you a sinner. But simple words can’t hurt you.