One of the things that lets you know the Memphis quartet Lucero is a band worth your time is the loyal but insular attitude of their fans. Months before the band’s latest, “1372 Overton Park,” hit the airwaves, Internet boards were abuzz over the potential treachery inherent in horns being included on the group’s first major-label release.
That’s what happens when you make songs that cut to the quick, that are heraldic and anthemic on the surface, but are inlaid with insights, alluding to the scars and vulnerabilities and stray ecstasies that people ponder in private.
Ben Nichols has notebooks full of those kinds of crucially obsessive secrets, and he flings himself into the narratives with a voice full of phlegm, a musical autobiographer along the lines of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, or Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood. The bits of polish and brass on “1372 Overton Park” don’t tarnish the blemishes much, although there will inevitably be those who angrily maintain the DIY indie-label material was the pinnacle for Nichols and the boys.
The truth is that Lucero hasn’t made a bad record, and “Overton” is their eighth of this decade. There is a blue-collar, middle-class ethos about them, related to trusting your instincts and not putting on airs — either way, as entitled big shots or as feisty rebels battling The Man. They can crank out heartland rockers that are deliriously better with three or four beers in you, or they can quiet down for a ballad that makes you wish the entire venue was a pair of head phones.
Two of those ballads are titled “The War” and “Mom,” and they are each intellectually thorough and emotionally brave.
Friday they play the Varsity as part of what’s billed as a Ramblin’ Roadshow and Memphis Revue, with Amy Lavere, Cedric Burnside & Lightning Malcolm opening.
Here is a live rendition of the Lucero tune “Bikeriders” from earlier this year, delivered with a gusto reminiscent of Springsteen. Here is a rough-and-ready combo of “Joining the Army + Last Night in Town.” And here is Lucero’s MySpace page, which includes both old and new songs.
Lucero at the Varsity Theater, Friday, Oct. 23, doors open at 8 p.m., tickets $15.