A disclosure: Lucero is my favorite band. I’ve seen them live somewhere around 14 times. I make sure to always have at least one t-shirt that is new/presentable enough for casual events in life (and a couple of backups). I have considered a tattoo.
Another disclosure: I didn’t like Lucero at first. Never hated them or anything, but I just didn’t ‘get’ them. Lead singer Ben Nichols’ vocals are certainly an acquired taste, and the songs can sound a little samey from a distance. I kept trying though - and around the time of 2003’s That Much Further West, I was suddenly smitten. For good.
A final confession: I’m not so biased that I can’t find fault with the fellas. Their last album, 2021’s When You Found Me did some 70s AM radio rock experimentation that didn’t work for me, and Ben took his vocals to places I’d prefer he hadn’t gone. That said, the songs sound great live. And that’s where the magic of Lucero is truly found.
I neglected to mention in paragraph 2 that seeing Lucero live for the first time around 2003 was the straw that broke the camel’s back (in a good way). In concert, Lucero is a force of nature. It’s not pretty - the music is a raw blend of country punk midwestern sweaty rock n’ roll. They don’t sound like anything you’d hear on any radio station, even satellite radio. But it’s a rock revival every time they play.
The crowds are almost as fun to watch as the band. There are dads on their getaway weekend with the boys, there are college punks, there are rockabilly couples complete with a rockabilly baby, there are couples, families, normies, and weirdos. And they all know every word. There are drunks swaying to the beat. There are puffs of vape that you know ain’t nicotine. There’s dancing and screaming at the tops of lungs. And I’ve NEVER seen a fight at a Lucero show. Even if you never come around to liking the band on tape, catch a show some time - you’ll thank me.
Six paragraphs in, we finally get to discussing the new album. Should’ve Learned by Now is Lucero’s best album since Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers. There, I said it. Supposedly this record is a collection of songs not picked for When You Found Me and Among the Ghosts, but it feels like a truer representation of the band than either of those (and I loved Ghosts). It also may be the most accessible thing they’ve ever put out.
“One Last FU” opens the set with the raucousness you expect from Lucero (They are half raucous / half utter sadness), and it’s a sign of things to come. Should’ve Learned By Now leans into the rowdy times and barrooms more than recent releases, and this song covers both.
Next up is “Macon if We Make It,” which is surely among the band’s catchiest songs ever. The tune is pure dopamine. They don’t play around with building anticipation - here’s your kickass verse, here’s your hooky chorus, here’s your ripping guitars. No teasing, just a slab of rock n’ roll greatness. I can’t wait to hear this one live.
“She Leads Me” is about as close to pure country music as Lucero will ever get. It’s a hopeful song about love being a restorative journey and destination. It’s a simple song, but the pretty piano accompaniment and the gentle harmonies of the chorus make it a real winner.
Even my least favorite song upon first listen, “Raining for Weeks” (the only real emotional downer of the album) has revealed itself to be subtly captivating. There’s not a bad song to be found here.
There’s a clear theme of hope, home, and rescue on this album, which is a thousand miles from the sorrow and self-medication of early releases. It’s the hallmark of a great band that they can mature naturally without losing an iota of what makes them special. Lucero never changed for anybody but themselves.
Should’ve Learned By Now is a standout in a career of standouts. Give it a listen.