Memphis, Tennessee's Lucero gained immeasurably when they added keyboard ace Rick Steff to their ranks in 2006. Steff is deeply rooted in their native city's musical heritage. As evidenced from their brief romance with Universal on 1372 Overton Park, he added a touch of Memphis' soul and R&B traditions to Lucero's rocking alt-country and barroom boogie. On Women & Work, their ATO debut, they step even deeper into Memphis traditions. Working once again with producer Ted Hutt at Ardent, the sextet has been augmented by the horns of Memphis' Jim Spake (Al Green) and Scott Thompson (Ray Charles, Solomon Burke). That said, Lucero still sound like no one but themselves; it's as if this sound was always there just waiting for them to mature enough to let it breathe. Ben Nichols' songwriting is as homespun and sharp as ever. His protagonists are the same romantic, hard-bitten characters that real life exudes in spades, and he has a way of twisting acceptance into a refusal to accept defeat. On the brief intro to "On My Way Downtown," the album's opener, he rasps with a young Marlon Brando's bravado: "I know the last time we drank, I was a little less than behaved/But come on out tonight. Oh I'll be good tonight." As the song kicks into gear with a B-3, an upright piano, and guitarist Brain Venable's woolly I-IV-V progression, the horns kick in hard. When Nichols sings: "When you're around, I'm more the man I should be....." it's as if he's convinced, and she will be too. The title track is a choogling, bar stomping drinking song with '50s-style barrelhouse rock piano from guest Rick Jeffries. The band's trademark alt-country is tinged by Memphis soul on "It May Be Too Late." Nichols' wayward protagonist wants his woman back in the worst way despite his wandering ways. As is typical, his final reasoning for her to return is twisted -- with souled-out horns blazing, he sings: "Maybe the best way...For you to save me..Is by letting me save you." Only Nichols can turn lines like that and get away with them. Southern-fried boogie is evident in "Juniper" and "Like Lightning" (with a dynamite female backing chorus on the latter). And Lucero may never get closer to straight Memphis soul than on the greasy "Who You Waiting On?" The closer, "Go Easy," is an affirmative country song that eventually builds itself up with a gospel chorus -- complete with choir! Intensity rises with repetition; piano, organ, guitars, and low slung tom-toms all erect it. Nichols' growl in front of that choir becomes awe-inspiring. Women & Work is the sound of a mature, confident band, fully embracing their hometown's musical legacy, and wrapping it inside their own sound, making each both larger and deeper. All killer, no filler.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek