Wasted By Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Nothing wasted, everything gained on The Promise of the Real’s second full length album
No one will ever accuse Lukas Nelson of taking the easy way out or following the path of least resistance. Anyone who’s taken the time to follow his musical development over the last four or five years knows that Lukas can pretty much do whatever he wants musically. He’s a natural singer with an innate sense of phrasing that many artists spend a life time developing; his sense of melody is so natural and ‘bang on’ in a commercial sense that he could spend the rest of his days penning radio hits if he wanted to, and his guitar playing has moved out of imitation – though it’s still easy to hear and feel his influences in every note – and into territory that is becoming all his own. With talent like Nelson has, it’s both surprising and gratifying that he has chosen to make a record like ‘Wasted.’ If he was a different kind of person and hadn’t grown up in an environment that encouraged him to trust his instincts, he could easily have given into the pressure to create an album of radio friendly hits, full of hooks and memorable choruses that would earn him a place at the very forefront of the contemporary country scene.
Instead, he made the kind of record he wanted to, and we’re all the richer for it. The world doesn’t need another Keith Urban style country pop balladeer. Lukas could write songs to fit that bill in his sleep, but what would be the point? The music that’s been drawing the young singer-songwriter’s attention has a much darker turn of mind as the songs on this record share more kinship with ‘Tonight’s the Night’ era Neil Young and ‘Exile’ era Stones than anything I’ve heard in a long time. After the bright confidence of the music on ‘Brando Sessions’ and the expansive melding of country and blues on the debut full-length album, Lukas has taken everything down a notch for the thoughtful and often painful ruminations that characterize the songs on ‘Wasted.’
If The Promise of the Real’s debut was somewhat cautious, ‘Wasted’ is its opposite. Untied, come loose, unhinged, and full of faith that things will turn out right as long as love and trust remain unbroken. Listening to these new songs is often like being onboard a creaky ship in the middle of a storm. If you didn’t know the captain, you’d fear being capsized or thrown overboard, but if you can relax, find your sea legs, and simply let these often wrenching, stoic and blistering songs work their way through you, you may find ‘Wasted’ to be one of the most challenging collections of guitar based rock songs you’ve heard in quite some time.
A year or two ago, Lukas Nelson gave up his apartment, put his things in storage and moved onto his tour bus. The experiences that have come out of this kind of rootless, vulnerable existence inform every song on ‘Wasted.’ Recorded spontaneously with all blemishes intact and no varnish applied, the album represents a snapshot in time that captures a young artist at a crossroads in his career. Sacrifices, love lost and miles travelled are all on Lukas’ mind on tracks like ‘Don’t Take Me Back’ and ‘Old Familiar Pain.’ This is music that pulls no punches, and if tracks like the guitar heavy ‘Running Away’ take longer to work their way into a listener’s favor than more easily accessible songs like ‘Sound of Your Memory’, the effort is more than worthwhile. At times, the music is so dense and hurting, that you may cry for relief, but like his father, Lukas seems to have an innate sense of when to lighten up a bit and sweeten the pot.
For it would be inaccurate to paint ‘Wasted’ as echoing nothing more than ‘Blood on the Tracks’ style darkness. There are lots of clear spots through the clouds to be heard on tracks like ‘Frame of Mind’ with its gorgeous Leonard Cohen style chorus and its contemplative slowed down Crazy Horse melodic structure. ‘Can You Hear Me Love You?’ also has a vintage Neil Young vibe with its piercing guitar and lovely vocal arrangements while ‘Heart of the Matter’ is a drop dead beautiful song with a vocal performance that would do Ray Charles proud.
‘Wasted’ is the first great album of Lukas Nelson’s career. He pulls no punches and gives his listeners a lot of credit to weather the ups and downs of this often intense and challenging music. Perhaps the songs will sound ‘too heavy’ to country fans and too ‘jammy’ and intense for mainstream rockers, but taken on their own terms, with labels removed, everything on ‘Wasted’ represents a great leap forward artistically and points to much greater things to come.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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