Lucero have made albums with the blazing immediacy of a house fire: 1372 Overton Park from 2009 is practically a greatest-hits collection, full of ballsy riffs, brash horns and bare-knuckle lyrics that can knock you down flat. Among the Ghosts isn’t that kind of album.
After more fully exploring a hometown sound on the soul-laced All a Man Should Do in 2015, the Memphis band is in a somber mood on its latest. These 10 new songs that seep in more slowly as frontman Ben Nichols examines the ties—family, emotional, moral—that bind us together, and how easily they can fray. Though Nichols sings in his gravelly voice from a first-person point of view, there’s a clear detachment from autobiography: at least two songs here come from the perspective of Civil War soldiers. The first, “Cover Me,” finds an army deserter on the run; the other, “To My Dearest Wife,” is in the form of a letter home the night before a battle. Together, they’re emblematic of the music on Among the Ghosts, which is often more subdued, and sometimes even atmospheric, than in the past. The songs are full of minor-key acoustic guitars, moody electric flourishes and downhearted piano parts, augmented here and there with overdriven, but restrained, riffs.
The muted arrangements suit songs like “Bottom of the Sea,” a pretty apt summary of depression when Nichols sings, “I can feel the waves come down / Crashing over me / I can feel the cold and dark / At the bottom of the sea.” He offers steadfast devotion amid the turbulence of life on “Always Been You,” piano blending with guitar; and professes not to care what anyone else thinks on the gentle “Loving,” singing, “I just want to be good enough for you.” There’s not a lot of range to Nichols’ gruff voice—part of Lucero’s charm is the way he sings everything with maximal feeling—but not having to push so hard on every song adds nuance, including a dire spoken-word part over eerie guitars on “Back to the Night,” the second-to-last song.
Then, just when it seems like Lucero have opted not to include any scorchers, they close out the album with “For the Lonely Ones.” A brawny guitar riff anchors the song, which picks up rich horn parts, some juke-joint piano and a ripping guitar break as it rolls along. It’s like a reminder from the band: sure, we turn down sometimes, but don’t think we’ve forgotten how to blow your hair back, either. If Among the Ghosts would have benefitted from more of a balance between those poles, Lucero’s latest demonstrates that they do the quiet stuff nearly as well as the loud.
Watch Lucero perform in Atlanta, Ga., circa 2013 via the Paste vault below: