Memphis, Tennessee’s Lucero emerged from punk underpinnings, hell-bent on composing sad, slow rock songs steeped in country. Beginning with the quartet’s 2003 release, That Much Farther West, those intentions receded, exposing Lucero’s raucous roots; sinewy pedal steel indie sensibility giving way to punchy guitar and expanding acclaim.
Frontman Ben Nichols returns to the country ease of Lucero’s early days with his solo debut, the mini-LP The Last Pale Light in the West. The album is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, the violent story of “The Kid” who journeys in to the west in the 1850s.
Nichols’ crush-and-run vocals temper the acoustic picking and subversive pedal steel on the title track, rusted string leads meld with breathing accordion on “The Kid,” and hand claps enliven the story-song “Davey Brown,” a loose breakdown worth of a dos-y-do. Each of the seven tracks is permeated by desert dust, endless skies, and the dirt and sweat of desperation.
For some, Lucero’s later albums have lacked the spark heralded in the band’s early days. The Last Pale Light in the West proves there is still a place in Ben Nichols for sad, slow songs. More important is the hard-won maturity that has allowed this songwriter to take a classic American novel and adapt it to a set of classic American songs. A risky endeavor by nature, Nichols hasn’t ever been afraid. And the risk pays off; The Last Pale Light in the West is a classic.
The Last Pale Light in the West is out now on Liberty and Lament.