Look to your left. A young couple is passionately making out. To your right, two grizzled bearded gentlemen are getting drunk and rowdy, and singing loud as hell. And don’t forget to look up, because an old punk rocker has just launched himself from the stage. Welcome, you are at a Lucero show.
Over their 16 years together, the Memphis band has built up a fanbase that’s as diverse as it is rabid. Ask 50 Lucero fans what their favorite song is and you’ll get 50 different answers. Among the band’s 100-plus songs across nine albums and multiple EPs, there’s no universal fan favorite. “Each person makes Lucero their own thing,” says frontman Ben Nichols. “Everyone identifies with us for completely different reasons. For one reason or another, Lucero becomes a very personal band.” But the one thing that seems to unify Lucero fans of all kinds is the band’s all-or-nothing live show, and Live from Atlanta, the band’s latest live record, thoroughly captures that.
Live from Atlanta is a massive, career-spanning collection of songs recorded over three nights in Atlanta’s Terminal West. It’s a four-LP greatest hits collection of 32 tunes played the way they were meant to be heard, with all the distinguishing elements you’d hear at Lucero’s live show—horns, pianos, and the trademark instrument of the band’s live sound: whiskey-fueled audience sing-alongs. “When you listen to ‘Freebird,’ you’re not listening to the studio version. You’re wanting that 17-minute crazy one. That’s the one you think to go to,” says guitarist Brian Venable. “So we’re hoping with this record, you’ll finally get a version of ‘Tears Don’t Matter Much’ that you know.”
Lucero’s entire catalog, from 2000’s The Attic Tapes to 2013’s Texas & Tennessee EP, is represented on Live from Atlanta, which clocks in at over two impressive hours. “You should’ve seen us turn that record in,” laughs Venable. “They wanted an 88-minute live record. But we were like, ‘That’s just not a live Lucero show!”
“This was a nice chance to document what we’ve been doing recently,” says Nichols. “It’s very representative of what we’ve been doing live for the last couple of years. It’s a pretty good snapshot of where the band is right now.”
The album’s extensive assortment of songs proves that Lucero is a band for everyone. Parts country and parts folk with an added heaping of punk rock, the six-piece cover the musical gamut. Even the band members have varying opinions on how to define their sound. “We’re each playing in a completely different band. We’re on stage and each playing in our own Lucero. I’m not sure that’s how it works for other bands,” laughs Nichols.
However you see Lucero, Live from Atlanta will satisfy your needs, whether you’re in the drunk couple, one of the drunk and rowdy beardos, or the stagediving punk rocker. Whether you look towards slower Lucero songs to get you through tough times like “Nights Like These” or party jams like “All Sewn Up,” Live from Atlanta has got you covered. It might even make fans out of non-believers (especially if they like whiskey). Because like bassist John C. Stubblefield always says, “Lucero loves you.”
Ryan Bingham needed some peace and quiet. Free of the burdens that had saddled him during the writing and recording of his recent albums, he relocated to an old airstream trailer tucked away in the mountains of California, camping out for several weeks and embracing the solitude to dig down deep and craft his most powerful album yet, 'Fear and Saturday Night.'
"It gave me the space and time to tap into myself," Bingham says of the experience. "Up there, it was totally isolated. No phones, no noise, no lights. At night the only thing you'd hear is the bugs and the coyotes. It's lonely when you get back up in there and there's nobody around, but for me, I kind of grew up that way in the middle of nowhere. Since I've started touring, I'm surrounded by people all the time, so getting back to the roots of everything, that’s really where I seem to find stuff that's meaningful when I'm writing songs."
Bingham was actually in the back of a van in North Dakota when he wrote 'The Weary Kind,' a song that became the centerpiece of the 2010 film 'Crazy Heart' starring Jeff Bridges. It earned him an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy, and skyrocketed him into the spotlight. Amidst the incredible success, though, was tragic loss behind the scenes that few knew about.
"A lot of peopled didn't realize when that Oscar stuff was going on and 'Junky Star' was released, I was dealing with the loss of my parents," says Bingham, who released the follow-up album 'Tomorrowland' as a direct reaction to the emotional turmoil that surrounded him. "My mother drank herself to death, and my father shot himself. I was also going through a huge transition with the band—we were breaking up—and I felt so lost playing with different musicians for the first time in years."
There were positive changes in his life during that time, too, including his marriage, which serves as a frequent well of inspiration on 'Fear and Saturday Night,' particularly on tracks like "Snow Falls In June" and "Top Shelf Drug," a Stones-esque rocker that's bound to become a live favorite.
Bingham never really set out to be a musician, though. His mother bought him a guitar when he was 16 years old, and a neighbor taught him a mariachi tune. When he grew tired of playing the only song he knew, Bingham began penning his own music, discovering the writing process to be a therapeutic coping mechanism for dealing with the tumultuousness of his upbringing. His first performances were informal affairs in the backseats of cars with friends on the way to rodeos, where he was competing professionally on the weekends. Every now and then, Bingham's friends would convince him to break out the guitar in a bar, and before he knew it, he had more gigs playing guitar than riding bulls.
Recorded mostly live with a brand new backing band and under the guidance of producer/engineer Jim Scott, 'Fear and Saturday Night' opens with "Nobody Knows My Trouble," a loping, autobiographical ballad about trying to outrun a painful past and finding redemption both in the strings of a guitar and in hitting the road with the love of your life. "Adventures Of You And Me" is a slide-guitar and mariachi-tinged barn-burner about a pair of misfits who travel the country together, while "Island In The Sky" again picks up the theme of travel as a means of salvation and escape.
"I feel like I've been traveling my whole life, even from when I was a little kid," says Bingham. "Both of my parents were really bad alcoholics, and my dad could never keep down a job, so we never lived in the same town for more than a couple years. And even if we did, we'd move to different houses every other month. It felt like I lived out of a cardboard box growing up until I was old enough to buy my own suitcase, and then I was just running from everything."
Bingham faces down his past with a poetic grace throughout the album. Lead single "Radio" is about coping with a darkness that doesn't want to let go, searching for a safe place to make sense of your life and the strength to stay on the right track through it all, while "Hands of Time" deals with accepting what's behind you and moving forward with grit and determination. On "Broken Heart Tattoos," a wistful waltz written to an unborn child, he imagines what kind of parent he'll become, singing, "Take your sweet time and walk a straight line in two / But don’t you be shy of your wilder side / Or be afraid to let loose / With broken heart tattoos." Perhaps the most affecting moment on the album arrives in the title track, when Bingham sings, "I don't fear nothin' except for myself / So I'm gonna go out there and raise me some hell."
"Certain things aren't going to change," he explains of the song. "You can't run away or hide from the past. You have to live in it and deal with stuff and find your own way to overcome. The way I grew up," he continues, "you had to develop a certain kind of toughness. Hanging with those guys on the rodeo circuits, you learn at an early age how to defend yourself. There's lots of fights and rowdy bars and mean people out there. But if you're smart enough to stay out of situations where other people can hurt you, you're the only one who can really hurt yourself. That's something I had to learn on my own."
Those hard-learned lessons, through both good times and bad, helped make Bingham the man he is today. 'Fear and Saturday Night' is the most authentic, personal, and deeply moving portrait of that man we've heard yet.
“I use my gut, and my gut don’t lie to me” is more than just a lyric in Twin Forks’ exuberant “Something We Just Know,” it is a kind of mission statement for the quartet. If you’ve ever been to a musical performance that made you lose all sense of time and place and give in to the cathartic feeling of clapping and dancing and singing along, you’ve already visited the sweet spot where Twin Forks have made it their mission to reside. “Whatever makes the audience stomp their feet and sing at the top of their lungs, that’s what I want to be doing,” says singer/guitarist Chris Carrabba. “I want to be generating that spirit from the stage. And there’s gotta be a way to do that whether the audience knows the songs yet or not.” Carrabba, mandolin player Suzie Zeldin, bassist Jonathan Clark and drummer Ben Homola are already well on their way, rousing crowds with their electrifying chemistry and anthemic folk-rock.
Carrabba figured out the guiding principle for Twin Forks before he even knew exactly what the project would sound like. During recent solo tours, Carrabba — whose Dashboard Confessional grew from an intimate solo-acoustic affair to a bona fide arena rock band during the mid ‘00s — says he was reminded how important that audience connection had always been to him as a performer.
He also knew he wanted to craft a sound closer to the music he’d loved as a kid — classic folk, country and roots music. Growing up outside Hartford, Connecticut in an area he describes as “half-rural, half-city,” Carrabba developed an early fondness for acoustic singer-songwriters he heard on the radio — Cat Stevens and John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot — as well as the more obscure Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Guy Clark LPs he found in his mother and step-brother’s record collections. “At the beginning of Dashboard, I wanted to write an acoustic record, but every time I played a D,C, or G chord — which are called the ‘cowboy chords’ — I would think about how Tom Petty or Cat Stevens or John Denver or Gordon Lightfoot did this already,” says Carrabba. “That’s when I started tuning my guitars all to hell and back, just so they sounded weird to me. I was probably playing DCG anyway, but I didn’t know anything about guitar, and that was how I could get myself feeling like I was in new territory.”
“When I started playing acoustic-based music, I wasn’t trying to avoid traditional folk because I didn’t love it — I just loved it so much and didn’t wanna do an injustice to it,” Carrabba notes. “And I had other influences and I thought, why can’t I combine this punk and hardcore feeling with this classic folk feeling — because they were both such massive loves of mine. But right now I’m more excited about utilizing the age-old, time-tested thing and trying to excel within the parameters of a traditional template.”
He still wanted to be in new territory, though, so when he started writing songs for the project that would evolve into Twin Forks, he wanted to add a new twist. So Carrabba spent three years teaching himself traditional fingerpicking technique. “There’s magic in that kind of playing, where you’re managing two guitar parts,” he says. “I have always found it fascinating and it just seemed like it was calling to me.” Equipped with that new set of skills, Carrabba started writing his most delicate, musically articulate compositions yet, temporarily setting them aside for he-didn’t-know-what. In the interim, making his 2011 covers album, “Covered In The Flood,” gave him the chance to explore his relationship with songs by some of his favorite folk and country artists, both classic and contemporary, including Clark, John Prine, Justin Townes Earle and Corey Brannan.
The covers LP was also the vehicle for Carrabba to start working with a few musician friends with whom he’d been wanting to collaborate: He asked Zeldin to sing back-ups on his cover of “Long Monday,” and Clark to help him record/produce it in his small studio. He and Homola had been talking about playing together for awhile, so he invited the drummer to join the developing project, as well. Last fall, Carrabba, Clark and Homola performed songs from that covers collection and a few of Carrabba’s new original tunes — those delicate finger-picking songs — at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The experience was a major awakening. “Onstage at HSB, I realized, I have all this delicate stuff, but I like to party. I like the feeling of release and drive onstage. We only played it as a trio and we weren’t called Twin Forks yet, but as soon as we got offstage, we talked about all the ones we should have played that were closer to the ones we play now. It was instantly evident. We were elated. All we want to be is elated. Why else should we be getting onstage? We’re not up there to be some good-time charlie band, but we are not hiding the fact that we are elated to be onstage with you and we’re choosing the songs that are giving us the best edge to be able to do that.”
After Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Carrabba returned home with a new sense of purpose and a clarity of vision for Twin Forks. In the previous two years, he had been sticking to a temporary rule he’d imposed on himself as a songwriter: “I had made this rule that I would not say ‘love’ or ‘heart’ in my lyrics,” he explains. “I would talk about those things but I wouldn’t say them. So when I came home from that festival and I did write the first song and it did say both ‘love’ and ‘heart,’ they felt like the right words, after not having used them for so long. I let the songs happen and found a tempo that suits what Twin Forks became.”
“Something We Just Know” came to him first, and then, the flood — another eight songs in the following eight days. Twin Forks began tracking the new songs whenever they could, between tours with other projects, in a multi-purpose space Carrabba had converted into a studio. Over the course of several weeks starting last fall, they managed to record more than twenty tracks that they plan to whittle down to eleven or twelve for the debut LP they plan to release later this year. “We tracked everything live, and I have this tendency to get really excited about what everyone is doing and I’ll make a little hoot or shout, and you can hear all those things in the final versions of the songs,” says Carrabba. “On ‘Scraping Up The Pieces,’ everytime I listen to it and hear Suzie laughing, I’m dying to remember what could have been so funny. Then we additionally multi-track, which we figured was a thoughtful way of approaching the record. You get the error-prone thing that has all the magic in it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chase a little more precision. But the goal is always to do our best to get it right in the same room with each other, looking at each other, laughing with each other. I think you can feel that all over the songs.”
"Calling Lucero a 'Southern rock' band is limiting. But the seven-piece group does play a version of rock and roll with Tennessee accents audible in their vocals and attitudes apparent in their frequent requests for whiskey shots." - Paste
"Nobody making music today has a voice like Bingham’s, one that has the worn and weary texture of an old fighter more than twice his age but the power of a man in his 20s. It’s an intoxicating mixture." - Austin 360