Among the Ghosts

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Among the Ghosts Review

by Mark Deming

Lucero are a rock band, one that plays music that isn't afraid to hit hard or lay out the boogie, but their notion of good times has never been simple. They know that you need the bad times to make the good times truly meaningful, and it's the darker side of life that takes center stage on 2018's Among the Ghosts. On these ten songs, Lucero's protagonists struggle with lost love ("Among the Ghosts"), brushes with death ("Bottom of the Sea"), wartime separation ("To My Dearest Wife"), loneliness ("Back to the Night"), and other themes that lurk in the emotional shadows, and the music never sugarcoats the deeply personal, sometimes uncomfortable messages in the lyrics. The gritty rasp of Ben Nichols' vocals has rarely been as evocative as they are on Among the Ghosts, still sounding strong as ever but with an unusually broad emotional palette, and Rick Steff's keyboards are used to superb effect, especially the graceful sway of his piano work. Among the Ghosts is more measured and introspective than one might expect from Lucero, and the performances (most tracked live in the studio) are more low key, making greater use of dynamics and less stomp-down force. But this is clearly a Lucero album, and their music, unapologetically muscular, is still mighty even when they turn things down a bit, and the finale, "For the Lonely Ones," closes out the set with a potent shot of life-affirming rock & roll that feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. And kudos to whoever had the idea of bringing in actor Michael Shannon for the recitation on "Back to the Night." After two decades, Lucero haven't run out of fresh ways to shape their music, and Among the Ghosts demonstrates how smart and versatile these guys can be; it's a brave and satisfying set that finds beauty and meaning in the valleys on the human experience.

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