Lucero rides high with 'Women & Work'

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Ben Nichols, frontman of Lucero, credits fate as much as anything with the success his band has found thus far.

It's been 14 years of life on the road, experimenting with sounds and players, for Lucero to reach this point of rebirth. Now the band has blossomed with what some call a Memphis rock alt-country sound that Nichols says is the band's true sonic home.

"When we made 'Women & Work,' it was the first time everyone was involved [in a record] from day one," said Nichols. "That let us discover what was possible."

While the Memphis-born band sounded comfortable in its previous indie pop folk groove, Nichols always felt some ingredient was missing as the band sought its musical sea legs.

Onstage
Lucero with Shovels and Rope
» Where: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW
» When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
» Info: $25; 800-955-5566; 930.com

"Having a band in Memphis puts you in a tradition," he said. "We started at punk rock shows, not necessarily playing punk rock, but coming from the outside, from a Bohemian place."

Nichols' eureka moment came when the band expanded from a four-piece to an eight-piece by way of keys -- especially sax -- horns and pedal steel. The musical brew required a bit of steeping for it to hit full-bodied sound. After all, the band did have horns on its 2009 release, "1372 Overton Park."

Only after all the musicians were in place and had spent some time playing together did they hit a comfort level that brought Lucero's sound to full fruition.

As different as Lucero may sound from the band's early days, this record also takes Lucero full circle. "When we began," said drummer Roy Berry, "we were known for how restrained we played. Our sound got bigger over the years, but the larger ensemble is making the core band sparse like we used to be -- the songs just have more layers."

Don't be fooled by the alt-country tags some critics and fans have hung on the band. Nichols and his bandmates have plenty of classic Stax soul mixed in with their Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-by-way-of-Sun-Studios-flavored sound. Indeed, Nichols calls the record "contemporary Memphis soul" flavored with some modern rock.

"When we started, we were building on a foundation we weren't aware of," added guitarist Brian Venable. "Listening back to our early stuff, we hear ourselves reference the old Sun Records. We didn't hear it or feel it then, but we hear it and feel it now."

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Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner