Three for the Road: Larry Stephenson, Lucero and Rhett Miller
A mini roots round-up by Cat Johnson
Larry Stephenson – What Really Matters (Compass)
Bluegrass veteran Larry Stephenson has a brand new batch of uplifting, insightful and personal songs to add to his impressive catalog. Driven by his clear, sweet voice, What Really Matters features those things we love about traditional bluegrass including tight harmonies, spot-on picking, spacious arrangements, heartfelt lyrics and a healthy dose of salvation sentiment. But Stephenson also strolls outside of the traditional parameters with some light-hearted, here-and-now tales that give him a chance to shine as a story-teller. Standout tracks: What Really Matters, Philadelphia Lawyer (featuring Sam Bush), Big Train, The Seashores of Old Mexico.
Lucero – Women & Work (ATO)
Lucero kicks off its latest, Women & Work, with a pleading intro titled “Downtown” in which lead singer Ben Nichols is trying to convince his “baby” to go out with him, even though last time they drank he was, “a little less than behaved.” But he promised to be good. The intro rolls into the rocking “On My Way Downtown,” which re-familiarizes listeners with the band’s country-rock-by-way-of-punk tendencies and puts the gas down on the album which is a foot-stomping romp through the Americana landscape. Featuring horns, pianos, songs about ex-wives, tomahawks, heartbreak, closing time at the bar, lost love, doubles for the road and thoughts of days gone by, Women & Work is a tribute to Memphis (the band’s hometown) and the unmistakable Memphis sound. Standout tracks: On My Way Downtown, Sometimes, Women & Work.
Rhett Miller – The Dreamer (Maximum Sunshine)
Being the lead singer for Old 97’s has established Rhett Miller’s place as a founding father of the alt-country scene, but in addition to his celebrated work with the band, Miller has released a stream of solo albums and garnered praise for his songwriting style and compositional abilities. His latest, The Dreamer, doesn’t stray too far from familiar Miller territory, riding the space between rock and country with a touch of indie experimentalism, but this one is stripped down to the essentials; sparse instrumentation, straightforward lyrics, a return to the country rock stylings that made him a favorite of the roots crowd. Miller is in top form here, delivering personal, heartfelt songs with his trademark style, swagger and soul. Standout tracks: As Close As I Came to Being Right (with Rosanne Cash), Sleepwalkin’, Lost Without You.