Lucero – Tickets – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC – March 20th, 2013

Lucero

Lucero

Shovels and Rope

Wed 3/20/13

7:00 pm

Lucero - (Set time: 9:15 PM)
Lucero
Women & Work is a love letter from Lucero to its hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. “Having a band in Memphis puts you in a tradition,” says Lucero frontman Ben Nichols. “We started at punk rock shows, not necessarily playing punk rock, but coming from the outside, from a bohemian place.”
The bohemian tradition is just as strong in Memphis as the city’s series of international hits. The popularity of Sun, Stax, Elvis, and Al Green doesn’t diminish the influence of the blues, Jim Dickinson, and Alex Chilton. The bridge between the shadows and the spotlight has become the heart of Lucero: Unafraid to mix pop with their anti-pop, they always charge into new territory.
As punks, Lucero were masters of restraint, with country music beer stains dribbled down the front of their shirts. As whiskey-soaked bohemians, they didn’t shy from sweeping Americana tableaus. And then they added an accordion. “When we started, we were building on a foundation we weren’t aware of,” says 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.”
Women & Work, their 8th album, is such an exciting presentation of the band’s eclectic explorations that it makes their 14-year meandering path appear to be a straight line to this very record. “We’re more comfortable in our own skin as a band, more comfortable acknowledging regional influences,” says bassist John Stubblefield. “We wound up making a Memphis country soul record.”
Integrating horns, pedal steel guitar, all manner of keyboards, and even a full-on gospel chorus, Women & Work is a fully realized musical extravaganza. Drawing inspiration from Delaney & Bonnie’s obscure first album, Home, on the Stax label, Lucero’s ambivalence about tradition has been replaced by an exuberant embrace. Women & Work is like Arcade Fire baptized in Joe Cocker and Leon Russell’s Mad Dogs, then warmed with Don Nix’s Alabama State Troopers.
“On My Way Downtown,” the album’s lead song, tells the story: a reserved guitar riff sets the mood, a couple instruments quietly fall in and Ben adds the first contemplative vocals. The song seems headed firmly into the punk-rock-made-pretty territory of their roots—until the organ sustains a chord, the tempo ratchets up, and Lucero becomes a band that doesn’t ask but rather insists that you move your feet. Go ahead hipster—dance!
“Go Easy” is something new for the band: gospel music. A sing-along with a large female chorus, it’s more likely to close the bar than open the church, but when returning producer Ted Hutt (Gaslight Anthem) pushed the band toward a sacred sound, they realized it could cinch the album’s country soul feel.
“You work all week, thinking about women and the weekend,” says Nichols. “’Downtown’ is Friday night, ‘Go Easy’ is Sunday morning. The rest of the record is the party in between.”
Nichols recently moved from stage to screen, playing a lead role in the acclaimed MTV series $5 Cover, directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Footloose). The character was a rambling musician, and Nichols brought authority to the performance. In 2009, he released a solo album, The Last Pale Light In the West, a collection of acoustic songs based loosely on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
Shovels and Rope - (Set time: 8:00 PM)
Shovels and Rope


Swimmin’ Time

It’s not all that unusual for musicians to talk the talk about taking a less-is-more approach to their work – but it’s rare indeed for artists to really walk the walk, and apply that philosophy across the board. Over the better part of a decade, Shovels & Rope have done just that, cutting unnecessary frills from their songs, not to mention the very way they live their musical lives.

Mississippi-born, Nashville-bred Cary Ann Hearst and Texas-born, Colorado-raised Michael Trent forged singular paths as solo artists before connecting – both musically and personally – in Charleston, South Carolina. While they’d both had burgeoning solo careers (Cary Ann earned kudos for her 2006 album Dust and Bones, Michael with his band, The Films, as well as his own solo outings), they quickly found that both their voices – which entwine with eerie beauty in their haunting harmonies – and philosophies matched up perfectly, and a beautiful partnership was born.

“Consciously or not, we’ve always insulated ourselves from outside influences,” says Cary Ann. “The key, for us, is to be authentic to ourselves – and, sometimes to a fault, we’ve managed to do that. I don’t think we’d be able to keep doing this if we backed off from what we were doing when we started.”

There’s no backing off or backing down on Swimmin’ Time, the duo’s much-anticipated sophomore set as Shovels & Rope, an album that brims with the confidence, energy and sinew of a band that’s accustomed to treating their career as a marathon, rather than a sprint. The album, recorded at the studio Trent constructed in the couple’s home, finds them cutting a new path through the sonic thickets they navigated so nimbly on their breakthrough bow, O’ Be Joyful – a disc that won rave reviews from outlets like Mojo (which called it “thrilling”) and Filter, which said “[they] were solid singer-songwriters on their own, but this is truly a thing of magic.”

On Swimmin’ Time – a title that nods to the aquatic theme running through the disc’s songs — Hearst and Trent bob and weave through a combination of witty, playful tales (like “Fish Assassin”) and brooding murder ballads (like the horn-tinged New Orleans shuffle “Ohio”) with a rare combination of intimacy and swagger. They know when to grab the listener by the shoulders and shake (as on the fiercely roiling opener “The Devil Is All Around”) and when to put a caring arm around those same shoulders in order to spin a gentler yarn (like “After the Storm,” a tale of surviving rough waters, both literally and spiritually).

“We weren’t trying to make a particular kind of record, but we knew early on that there would be some evolution,” says Trent, who also produced Swimmin’ Time. “There are all kinds of dark undertones, but there are other colors, too. Every song kind of played off, and built on, the ones that came before, so they fit together really well.”

That seamless construction helps Swimmin’ Time slide past the ears and into the memory banks with remarkable ease, each of its songs leaving a bit of an indelible mark, from the sonically brooding “Stono River Blues” (which could easily pass for a lost Grimm’s Fairy Tale) to the chiming “Save the World,” a sort of semaphore flag signaling hope on the horizon, to the woozy, closing-time waltz of “Coping Mechanism.”

“Our working model has always been to use what we have lying around,” says Cary Ann. “It’s just that this time, we happened to have an organ lying around, we had a piano lying around…we definitely had more resources at hand, but we didn’t want to seem ostentatious or anything. Besides which, we still have to recreate the songs live, so there’s a limit – even though Michael can play five things at once, like a wind-up toy.”

Those live shows have played a huge part in building Shovels & Rope’s reputation among audiences and their peers – the latter of whom voted the duo in for two 2013 Americana Music Awards, Emerging Artist of the Year as well as Song of the Year (for the vivid, semi-autobiographical “Birmingham”). Over the past two years, Cary Ann and Michael kept their sleeves rolled up and their voices raised, an M.O. that helped them eventually sell more than 60,000 albums the old fashioned way – reaching one listener at a time, and making each one feel like part of the Shovels & Rope family.

As a result, they were able to trade their well-loved and road-weary van for an R.V. and segue from tiny, sweat-soaked dives to larger halls, not to mention eye-opening performances at events like the Newport Folk Festival, Coachella and Lollapalooza. They may have had camera crews following them – for the intimate, revelatory documentary The Ballad of Shovels & Rope, which has been making the film festival circuit this past year – but they didn’t cut back on what Cary Ann calls “windshield time,” and certainly didn’t let their egos grow in tandem.

“Word of mouth has been a huge part of our story,” says Michael. “We just toured and toured, opening up for bigger bands and playing anywhere we could. Sometimes we felt more like t-shirt selling long-distance truckers. It wasn’t like we had a huge song that came out of nowhere and was suddenly on the radio all the time. I’d be terrified if that was the case.”

While they didn’t start showing up in the tabloids as a result, “Birmingham” (the number-one song on American Songwriter’s year-end list) and the rest of O’ Be Joyful did put Shovels & Rope on the larger stage in many ways – from an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman to an acclaimed set on Austin City Limits. But as they continue to prove, night after night on tour, they aren’t about to put their blue collars into mothballs. Cary Ann jokingly says, “We keep getting more famous, but we aren’t getting any better,” before turning serious.

“This is something we’ve both always dreamed of doing,” she says. “We enjoy each other’s music and we enjoy each other’s company. We thrive on doing exactly what we’re doing, and we’re making people happy with it. What could be better than that?”
Venue Information:
9:30 Club
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
http://930.com