Lukas Nelson and his band, Promise of the Real, have carved out a nice little niche for themselves over the past decade, establishing themselves as purveyors of a sturdy, classic rock-and-country aesthetic. With A Few Stars Apart, Nelson and POTR build on that trend by adding a healthy dose of heartfelt introspection to their mix of rough-and-tumble rockers and elegant ballads.
Recorded to analog tape and produced by Dave Cobb, the material on A Few Stars Apart exudes warmth. It can be felt from the first chords and Nelson’s husky delivery of the lines “You / Are the image of love” on the first track, “We’ll be Alright.” It’s a tone-setter, pulling you in and establishing the feeling of personal intimacy that runs through the album.
That intimacy manifests in various permutations. Sometimes, Nelson uses a rippin’ rock song. On lead single “Perennial Bloom (Back to You)” the big riffs and fast pace underscore the emotion of a song centered on returning to a loved one. “Wildest Dream” is a jangly rocker that falls somewhere between The Byrds and Tom Petty. Combined with Nelson’s vivid lyrics, the song is direct, evocative in its sunny reminiscences, and one of the highlights of the album.
Other times, that intimacy is less ebullient and more quietly contemplative. The title track, dedicated to a deceased friend, is a pretty, wistful lamentation on the loss of someone close. Nelson and Promise of the Real conclude A Few Stars Apart with two of the LP’s most thoughtful pieces. “More Than We Can Handle” is a lighthearted ode to having a companion to help you find a way through tough times. It sets up “Smile.” Rooted in a slow piano melody, the closing track ties up the various narrative strands of A Few Stars Apart. It touches on the need for human connection to better understand ourselves and the world around us.
Nelson concludes the song (and the entire affair) with a soft croon of:
And as I wait here like a prisoner
’Bout to walk his final mile,
I think of you
And I can’t help but smile
It makes a lovely capper for an album that wears its heart on its sleeve.