Music News & Reviews

Lucero lightens its sound but not its load; Lexingtonian to be on ‘SNL’

Lucero, from left: John Stubblefield, Rick Steff, Jim Spake, Brian Venable, Randy Ballard, Roy Berry and, foreground, Ben Nichols.
Lucero, from left: John Stubblefield, Rick Steff, Jim Spake, Brian Venable, Randy Ballard, Roy Berry and, foreground, Ben Nichols. ATO Records

Lucero

For just shy of two decades, Lucero has helped expand the notion of contemporary Memphis music. Its songs, largely those penned by frontman Ben Nichols, haven’t blatantly reflected the soul and R&B traditions of the band’s hometown, although there is often a distinctly blue cast to his lyrics. With Lucero, the tone is slightly more Midwestern, be it the band’s ensemble sound or the more late-night cast of Nichols’ more contemplative work.

On 2015’s “All a Man Should Do,” Nichols and Lucero break away from the Memphis mold figuratively and literally. It is perhaps the least rock ’n’ roll inclined record that band has issued, with Nichols’ songs regularly taking flight to other locales, many of which present a level of disenchantment.

“Drinking whiskey in my winter coat, an empty-hearted town sure gets cold,” Nichols sings in “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles,” which chronicles a West Coast journey to the City of Angels, which has essentially become an alley of ghosts, with all traces of once-vivid wildness and creativity existing only as echoes. Still, inspiration strikes. “So long, so long,” the song goes, summoning obvious disillusion. “Going back to Memphis with a picture and a song.”

“I Woke Up in New Orleans” is far less loyal to its location, outside of the muted brass that Randy Ballard creates as an enticing backdrop. The feeling is more in line with the tailspin saga of “Leaving Las Vegas” (“On most nights I could get away with something; these days I don’t seem to stand so proud”) with one notable exception. The character Nichols embodies, under the weight of booze and isolation, longs for love and home (“This might not count for nothing; I just wanted you to know”).

There are a few instances when Lucero kicks up some serious electric dust, as in the brassy romp “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” and, to a lesser degree, the boozy charge propelling “Throwback No. 2.” For the most part, though, “All a Man Should Do” is a portrait of Lucero in ragged repose.

How does this bode for Lucero’s Lexington return Friday night at Manchester Music Hall? Hard to tell, but it’s tough to imagine the band reverting to an entire evening of the reflection that dominates “All a Man Should Do.” A better guess might be found in Lucero’s preceding album, the two-disc, two-hour, 32-song concert set “Live in Atlanta,” which falls more in line with the Replacements-flavored party pieces that earned Nichols and company their reputation as a sterling live act. Even there, ample downshifting exists for the more poetic side of Nichols’ songs to emerge (“Texas & Tennessee” and “It Gets the Worst at Night” come to mind).

Colorado-based Esmé Patterson, co-founder of the Denver folk troupe Paper Bird, will open Saturday’s show. She will showcase songs from her fine 2016 indie pop album, “We Were Wild.”

Kelly Pratt on ‘SNL’

There will be another reason to tune in to “Saturday Night Live” this weekend other than to check out the newest political sendups. Playing alongside music guest Father John Misty will be Lexington native Kelly Pratt.

Currently based in Portland, Ore., the brass and reed instrumentalist has clocked time, tours and recording sessions with Arcade Fire, David Byrne and Beirut, among many others. On his Facebook page, Pratt said he will play “mostly saxophone” on tunes from progressive folk-pop stylist Misty’s forthcoming “Pure Comedy” album. Pratt also will tour as part of a “small orchestra” with Misty this spring.

Oscar winner Octavia Spencer will host the broadcast at 11:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC (WLEX-TV).

All-star ‘WoodSongs’

On one hand, it’s a blockbuster bill. But it’s also a presentation of a true musical odd couple.

Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street, teams Central Kentucky country celebrity John Michael Montgomery with pop star John Oates.

That’s right, the singer who all but owned the national country charts during the 1990s with songs like “Life’s a Dance” and “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident”) will share the show with half of one of the most celebrated pop-soul duos of the past four decades. Oates’ autobiography, “Change of Seasons,” will be published later this month. Things will be a tad different for this event. A 6:30 show will feature Oates reading from his book and sharing some hits. Then the show with Montgomery and Oates will be recorded (6:30 p.m., $25).

For tickets, call 859-280-2218 or go to Lexingtonlyric.tix.com. Read more about Oates in Sunday’s Herald-Leader and this weekend at LexGo.com.

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