Ben Nichols, leader of Memphis alt-country rockers Lucero, claims he had never heard of Uncle Tupelo back when he traded in his punk stripes for a more roots rock sound. While this may sound like typical rhetoric from upstarts trying to avoid being cast into the alt-country ghetto, Tennessee, the group's sophomore outing, is strong enough evidence to back up that claim. Listening to this defiantly organic and strong release, one gets the sense that Nichols adopted a countrified sound simply because it seemed the shortest path to the heart. The album is packed with leather-tough Americana such as "Nights Like These," -- which is all guitar-crunch, rolling B-3 organ, and Nichols' hot-tar emotive rasp -- and the gliding, melodic country-rock of "Ain't So Lonely." There are also plenty of ruminative, bruised numbers on the album, such as "Sweet Little Thing," which eventually bursts out of a stark verse to reveal a Replacements-style hear-tugging rocker. The songs get a big kick in the pants from Nichols' vocals; he's a raw singer in the tradition of Steve Earle, Paul Westerberg, and Matthew Ryan. Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars -- who also happens to be the son of legendary producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star, Replacements) -- produced this album and added keyboards. ~ Erik Hage, Rovi

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