A lot of Lucero fans are going to hate this album. I realize that is a strange way to start reviewing an album that I actually like, but I felt that way upon first listen and I still do a week or so later. All a Man Should Do doesn’t even feel like a Lucero record. The way the vocals are turned up and the rest of the instruments are blended in the background makes this feels like a Ben Nichols solo offering. And like any solo album from a frontman there is more crooning going on than raising hell. Compared to Nichols only actual solo record this sounds extremely polished and instead of relying on just Ben and his guitar the whole band is present on this album. They’re present, just…diminished.
Coming off their last studio EP, Texas & Tennessee, I was wondering if Lucero was going to focus on that softer side instead of the full band, brass heavy sound featured on 2012’s Women & Work. The new album definitely leans to the tone of the former, but sounds like they put in some time with a producer instead of recording it live in one take. Leading off “Baby Don’t You Want Me” fits in well with the four EP tracks as does the new track “They Called Her Killer”. However, songs like “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” and “The Man I Was” seem to follow more in the footsteps of Mumford & Sons’ Wilder Mind, sounding more like they are influenced by The National than country and blues. Sure, it’s still Lucero, but it’s really heavy on the depressing piano and chimey guitars. Instead of picturing Ben singing in bar, whiskey in hand, revving up the crowd, I picture him in a dark studio alone.
“Can’t You Hear Them Howl” sounds like the kind of song a former lead singer would create after his band broke up in the late 80s or early 90s. I don’t know if this make sense but I’m getting a weird post-peak Billy Idol feel to this record. Does anyone remember “Cradle of Love”? Why the hell do I like this album again? Other songs like “Throwback No. 2” sound like Nichols is going through a Van Morrison phase. The titles suggest Nichols understands this identity crisis but I’m not sure how much comfort that is to many Lucero fans out there. For newer fans, “Young Outlaws” is a solid jam not unlike many of the songs from Women & Work. For fans of everything before 1372 Overton Park? Uh…keep an open mind?
I wish that Ben Nichols created All a Man Should Do as a solo album that would allow for less scrutiny and all the indulgences and experiments of a solo project. For an album that wears the Lucero banner, this sounds only slightly like the music of their past. For example, “I’m in Love With a Girl” resembles more Counting Crows at their poppiest than Tennessee country rockers at their drunkest. Still, I find this album enjoyable, from the unexpected indie rock stylings to the 70s pop to the sappy album closing “My Girl & Me in ’93”. These songs won’t make you get up and move but if you feel like going for drive late at night and sorting out your thoughts, this might be your album for the next few months.
The Drink: I can’t believe I’m not suggesting whiskey or beer for a Lucero album, but this disc calls for something else. Red Wine? Yep.