Lucero- Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (East-West)

The Arts — By on October 13, 2006 at 5:18 pm

Never underestimate the power of production. In 2005, Lucero released one of the year’s best records, the rough-yet-not-entirely-raw Nobody’s Darlings. Thanks to the guiding hand of Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson, bourbon-dipped vocal cords shredded, cymbals crashed, bass boomed and guitars as muddy as the mighty Miss bitch-slapped the listener into feeling like they were right in the control room of Ardent Studios hearing the tunes hit the tape (Click on WROB: RobCeeRadio! on the Pandora tuner to check it out).

Praises were sung by many, including myself – I gave it a juicy 8 out of 10 rating on this very website. In that same review I quietly wished for a few more musical flourishes the next time around (e.g. some piano or Hammond organ). Proving that I am indeed the most influential music critic in the greater Dunmore area (How ya like them apples, Mike Evans?), Lucero seem to have taken my suggestion to heart on their newly-released fifth studio album. In fact, there is no shortage of keyboard instruments on Rebels Rogues & Sworn Brothers at all. Sadly, however, they chose to ignore my praise of Mr. Dickinson, opting this time to work with Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven (Cracker Van Beethoven?) main man David Lowery and some engineer d**chebag. Why has this man who I shall not name incurred my written wrath? Because he’s the d**chebag who mixed this disappointment. John C. Stubblefield (bass) and Roy Berry (drums) are poorly represented here and are nearly drowned out by vocals, guitars, pianos, and organs. But enough about Rebels‘ sonic shortcomings- there is a fine record in here somewhere. Ben Nichols’ songwriting is stellar as usual (though this record lacks a real breakout track like “The War” from Nobody’s Darlings or “Tears Don’t Matter Much” from 2004′s That Much Further West) and once you get used to the organ or piano smothering everything (again, that damn mix… it sounds like a Black Crowes record or something) you can feel the energy pulsing underneath. But a few filler tracks toward the end nearly torpedo the album’s overall worth. Particularly damaging is “Sing Me No Hymns”, which features a stapled-on bridge section and an ill-advised “shred” guitar solo from the usually tasteful Brian Venable. When it’s all said and done, Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers isn’t likely to make a believer out of anyone who wasn’t already drinking the Lucero kool-aid, but hopefully it serves as a lesson learned on the road to that elusive classic album that the band seems so close to crafting.

RATING (1-10): 5

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