Lucero / Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Lucero / Jason Boland & The Stragglers
LUCERO - Should’ve Learned by Now
The search for one’s identity is a lifelong process that every individual must go through. Who someone is today, is not the person they were yesterday nor who they may be tomorrow. Despite those changes, there is a general idea of a defined sense of self. No matter what happens, it is that small yet solid and grounding definition of self that continues to drive us forward in our search for identity and whatever may come with it.
It would be difficult to find any artist who understands that better than the band Lucero.
Since forming in Memphis in the late 90’s, Lucero’s base musical hallmarks have remained similar to the band’s initial sound established with their first record The Attic Tapes. In the history of their expansive discography, Lucero has evolved and embraced everything from southern rock to Stax-inspired Memphis soul, whilst simultaneously maintaining their distinctive sonic foundations. Over 20 years later, dedicated fans of the group still flock to hear the band’s punchy driving rhythms, punk-rooted guitar licks, and lyrics that evoke the whiskey drenched sentimentality of Americana singer-songwriters. As expected of any band built to survive, Lucero has welcomed change over the course of their career, but it has always been on their terms.
The band’s twelfth album, Should’ve Learned by Now, began its life as hardly more than some rough demos and lingering guitar parts. These pieces that were left behind from the band’s previous albums, Among the Ghosts (2018) and When You Found Me (2021) were deemed too uptempo and capering for the prior records’ darker themes.
“I had a particular sound I was looking for on each record and there was no room for any goofy rock & roll or cute witticisms or even simply upbeat songs,” said primary lyricist and frontman, Ben Nichols. “But now finally, it was time to revisit all of that stuff and get it out in 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.”
The band, comprised of all its original members (which in addition to Ben Nichols, includes Brian Venable on guitar, Roy Berry on drums, John C. Stubblefield on bass, and Rick Steff on keys) teamed up for a third time with producer and Grammy Award-winning engineer and mixer, Matt Ross-Spang. Lucero began the recording process in Sam Phillips Recording Service before transitioning and finishing the record in Ross-Spang’s newly opened Southern Grooves Productions in Memphis, TN. Ross-Spang appears to have settled in with the band’s more trademark sound whilst very much making his touch known to listeners.
“He knows how to take the sounds we’re making on our own and just kind of polish them up in the right way. Or dirty it up in the right way. Whatever it takes, he just kind of does it,” says Nichols.
The first track from the album “One Last F.U.” is a punchy and somewhat combative song which was one of the original remnants of Among the Ghosts. Despite its title, “One Last F.U.” is less about standoffishness and more a self-reflection on the kind of people we are capable of being in difficult situations. According to Nichols “The rest of the song was simply about wanting to be left alone while I drank at the bar. That could be taken in a kind of grumpy/antagonistic way, but I feel ok singing the song because I’ve been both characters in the song at different times. Sometimes I’m the one wanting to be left alone and sometimes I’m the drunk one blabbing all night to someone that just wants to be left alone.” Right off the bat, Nichols’ vocals are awash in rock and roll slap-back reverb. The effect pushes Nichols' naturally upfront vocals wider, so they fill the space in a manner more akin to a live performance. It’s one of a few new production effects that extend throughout the record and add a new level of presence and attitude to the band’s sound.
The second track, “Macon if We Make It”, was inspired by the band having to traverse through Georgia during a hurricane. When asked where the next stop on the tour was, the band responded with, “Macon, if we make it.” Continuing to be reminiscent of older works, “Macon if We Make It” has echoes of the band’s 2009 album 1372 Overton Park. The song is really driven by guitarist Brian Venable’s formidable electric guitar. The lyrics seem at first to be mostly preoccupied with a literal storm situation at hand but turn out to be more about a troubled relationship back home. The proverbial dam breaks when the narrator sings “I don’t know if we were in love. I just know it wasn’t enough. Got caught in the storm and the water it’s rising…” The song gives way to a powerful drum lead up by Roy Berry and the listener is carried out, like a raft, on a ripping guitar solo.
The pushes and pulls, builds and breakdowns are all over the album’s subsequent tracks, but it isn’t all hard-edged rock and roll all the time. “She Leads Me”, is inspired somewhat by the classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, and delves into a softer and more nostalgic sound. With backing vocals supplied by Jesse Davis and Cory Branan, it’s a song that lyrically rests on the concept that we sometimes need to recognize and acknowledge our past for a gentle enough reassurance to move forward.
The rest of the album dives right back into its more rock and roll songs with “At the Show” and “Nothing’s Alright”, both of which examine the highs and lows of remembering old loves, reminiscing on the old days, and contented introspection. Aspects which finally come to a head in the album’s title track “Should’ve Learned by Now”, a rough and edgy song that tackles the fact that all the lessons, though clearly recognized, have yet to sink in. Quite poetically, the song is set to a tune that may be the greatest call back to Lucero’s punk upbringing.
From its original Ben Nichols-designed cover art to its credits, the album is a reflection of a band that knows itself. Should’ve Learned by Now bridges the gap musically between “old Lucero” and “new Lucero” in a manner which affixes the band’s position as the perfect intersection of punk initiative with hard-earned artistry. It’s an album that recognizes the past in its sound and content, but leaves the door wide open to the future and for the lessons still in store.
For the past 20 years, Jason Boland & the Stragglers have dazzled audiences all over as one of the leading ambassadors of the Oklahoma and Texas music movement. Millions of fans cheering him on, over 500,000 records sold independently and 10 albums later, Boland is a career musician whose legacy continues to grow. From his early days touring in cramped vans and playing in front of tiny bar crowds to the packed venues he performs in today, Boland’s uncompromising approach has grown his profile dramatically, especially in the past handful of years. Add to that the legions of musicians who are influenced by Boland, and his impact on the scene is undeniable.
But just like so many other musicians, Boland was initially paralyzed by the pandemic. At the onset of the March 2020 lockdown, Boland was stuck at home for the longest period of his storied career without performing live.
Earlier this year, Boland released a cover of both Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life Again'' and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They-Are-A-Changin’” with the proceeds going to charity. Radio programmers around the country began spinning Back in the High Life Again, and the song spent 11 weeks in the Top 40 Americana Singles Chart.
Prior to the pandemic, Boland was hard at work on his most ambitious project yet. The groundwork he laid in 2019 saw the singer-songwriter roll through songs that would be a bold step forward. Strumming through the material with the Stragglers at a rehearsal in Colorado, Boland knew he had something big. However, that session took place a day before the lockdown and put the kibosh on the project for a year.
In early 2021, the time felt right to get the project rolling again. At a time when pandemic albums are popping up left and right, Boland zigged when everyone else zagged. Titled The Light Saw Me, the acclaimed singer-songwriter decided to go deeper than he’s ever gone before to create a multi-layered sci-fi concept album. Once again teaming up with his frequent co-conspirator, Grammy-winning producer Shooter Jennings, Boland hunkered down in a Los Angeles-area studio to bring The Light Saw Me to life.
“Jason is one of my dearest friends and, in my opinion, one of the smartest and coolest dudes I know. He was the first person to ask me to produce their record and many years ago we had a great time making Dark and Dirty Mile. So it was natural for me to be more than excited to be asked to produce The Light Saw Me.” says producer Shooter Jennings, “This album isn’t just another album from Jason & The Stragglers. It’s a magnum opus of the highest creative order, which in turn I take as a very serious honor to be able to be a part of its inception.”
The result? The Light Saw Me is as incisive and thought-provoking as any of his previous albums and shows Boland belongs alongside the great songwriters of his time. Drawing from influences as wide as Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and Tougher Than Leather to Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime, Boland succeeded by creating a concept album that’s as ambitious as it is accessible. On the surface, The Light Saw Me traces a cowboy living in Texas in the 1890s who is abducted by aliens and ends up in Texas in the 1990s, but there’s way more to it.
Packed into three distinctive interlocking parts, The Light Saw Me is layered with vivid imagery that touches on old legends (such as a spacecraft allegedly crashing in Aurora, Texas which
thematically fits), conspiracies and other accounts that run contrary to reality. Referencing aliens can oftentimes be campy and corny, but Boland uses them in a fascinating fashion. On the mesmerizing album opener “Terrifying Nature,” a brooding rambler featuring red hot fiddles that encapsulates the spirit of The Light Saw Me, Boland tackles how people come to grips with existential fear of how they’re connected to the feeling of love. It also sets up everything that’s to come.
Hidden behind the grandeur of the storyline, the message that Boland aims to share is a universal one: Everyone and everything is connected by love. In classic Boland fashion, The Light Saw Me tackles stories and themes that are integral to his writing beyond his world-class use of metaphors, like who we are, where we’re going, and whether love is something that people feel internally or just connected to consciousness and humans’ fear of their own mortality. On the title track, Boland is in total command. The lyrics illuminate all of the possibilities that led up to that moment and the sizzling track showcases his depth as a songwriter. Boland adeptly weaves in and out of the narratives, even if you don’t realize it. The main character tries to plead his case through evocative imagery from the Bible, astrology, and mythology; but in truth, Boland put these metaphors together to serve up a story that looks at the big picture in life.
Boland has long been an admirer of the late, great singer-songwriter Bob Childers, who served as a mentor to him. It’s fitting that on an album with great depth, that Boland would include Childers’ signature “Restless Spirits,” to serve as a de facto climax of the album. Tying the album together thematically, Boland uses “Restless Spirits” as a vehicle to showcase that we should have hope that love is a bond that is real, eternal, and still alive in the world and beyond.
While the music remains true to the roots of Boland and the Stragglers’ Red Dirt background, it’s as tight as anything he’s ever done. On top of the message and intricate instrumentation, the bold storyline will please longtime fans and undoubtedly serve as a gateway album to the rest of his massive discography.
For most of his career, the only thing you could expect from Boland is to do the unexpected. On what’s now his 10th studio album, he not only does that, but he did it in his own organic and authentic way. He’s making the music he wants while continuing to please the people who want to hear where his artistic journey takes him next. With a catalog like his, that’s no easy feat.
Read MoreDesign Visual
$35 - General Admission
- Oct 31, 2023 8:00 PM Add to cal