Among the Ghosts. Lucero. Liberty & Lament. 2018
After twenty years and twelve albums, Ben Nichols and Lucero continue to demand attention and appreciation. From their eponymous debut in 2001 until this latest offering, Nichols’ songwriting has never failed to impress. And while the band’s sound has proven to be malleable enough to provide whatever Nichols’ songs required at the time, Lucero has always been a band with teeth. In that sense, this album is no departure from what fans have come to expect from them.
Saying that Nichols continues to mature as a songwriter is awfully close to saying nothing at all. What does warrant mention with Among the Ghosts is the extent to which Nichols’ voice and the bands’ sound exhibit a level of restraint that hasn’t always been apparent to the extent that it is on this album. The themes that the album deals with are familiar enough. Love that is under attack, has been lost, squandered, or otherwise been strained, figures prominently in that mix. Restlessness, fate, loyalty, and loneliness inflect the love songs where love is central and emerge to the forefront in their own right on other tracks.
Listening to the album from cover to cover is like allowing the band to push you off of the Memphis & Arkansas bridge. The first track (“Among the Ghosts”) emerges hesitantly with sparse guitar signaling a departure from the more raucous tunes of the Lucero you were expecting. As subsequent songs unfold, they drag you into the depths.
Here you find the wreckage of loves lost due to restlessness and selfishness (“Bottom of the Sea”, “Everything has Changed”, “Always Been You”). You bump against the unfortunates who preceded you, as the songs dredge up the bones of bootleggers and confederate soldiers (“Cover Me”, “To My Dearest Wife”, “Long Way Back Home”). The songs drift downstream only to be turned back around on themselves (“Loving”, “Back to the Night”).
By the time the album reaches the final track (“For the Lonely Ones”, which rocks out in familiar floor tom and horn section fashion), it is almost like you are bursting back to the surface and gasping a lungful of fresh air. You’ve been on a tour; through moments of doubt, darkness, pain and loss, carefully crafted by expert guides. Now, as Nichols sings “come on baby dance with me . . . we’re praying for the lonely ones”, you have to ask yourself if that is what the nine tracks you’ve just heard add up to – a prayer for the lonely.