March 13, 2012 - ATO
Lucero’s seventh studio album, Women & Work, is chock full of road-tested, whiskey-soaked songs about (as the title suggests) troublemaking women and Southern living. This brand of songwriting falls within vocalist Ben Nichols’ wheelhouse, and walks a thin line between tried-and-true and playing it too safe. The first half of the album is loaded with Lucero’s semi-recent adoption of the Memphis soul sound, and it rings clear as it did on their previous album, 1372 Overton Park. The second track, “On My Way Downtown,” eases into brassy horn arrangements while slide-guitar melodies support the contrite words of a man who attempts to win back the favor of an old lady friend: “And the last time we drank/I was less than behaved/But I said that I would/I’d make up for old days.” The title track follows suit as a brassy barroom song with a wailing tack piano and, of course, a few soulful horns to lift Nichols’ raspy vocals out from beneath his barstool.
The second half of Women & Work is packed with the swoon-worthy alt-country reminiscent of Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (although subtle melodies are contributed by the horn section). “I Can’t Stand To Leave You” and “When I Was Young” are cry-in-your-beer ballads about heartache and loneliness, bathed in slide guitar and garnished with brass, violin and a few female backing vocals.
Unlike 1372 Overton Park, which first introduced Lucero’s soulful influence and expanded instrumentation, Women & Work falls short by not taking any risks. The songs of whiskey drinking, pretty girls and heartbreak are certainly Lucero’s bread and butter, but stacked up against their back catalog, Women & Work plays it just a little too safe.