Annoyingly, I can never remember exactly who it was who said it (I think it was Mike Patton from Faith No More) but memory clouds things.

But about 20 years ago there was one of those little pieces in Metal Hammer magazine where they asked “What Was The Last Album That Changed Your Life?” The answer struck me massively and has stayed with me to this day: “Not answering that, all great music should change your life”.

It’s right too.  I remember back in 2001, I was bored of rock. Really bored. Hated numetal. Too old for pop punk, all my favourites had gone into hiding, I began looking for something new. I’d always loved Springsteeen and Counting Crows, so investigated more rootsy US music (the internet wasn’t yet in full flight) but after a few weeks and a couple of editions of Uncut I came across an album called “Gold” by Ryan Adams. Working back, I found Whiskeytown and a little later, from reading stuff about this new alt-country thing I’d got into, happened across a band called Lucero.

Now we’re all a lot older, they’re on their ninth album (and I have this vehicle for writing long-winded personal intros…) but the music is still incredible.

Listening to “Among The Ghosts” as the title track broods, like a single line of throbbing brightness on a dark road, I am struck by the fact that all the bands I have reviewed over the years that I loved – I am thinking of work by The Bohannons and so on – all owes Lucero a debt in a way that I never picked up on at the time. The storytelling – all of this could be a TV drama on Sky Atlantic – the language, the fact the songs don’t really have a beginning or an end, you just happen on these lives for an hour. It all sets Lucero apart in a way I – and others perhaps – don’t give them enough credit for.

“The first word she said to me was goodbye” is just a wonderful and evocative line, and there it is in “Among The Ghosts” as Ben Nichols delivers the lyrics in the slightly lugubrious way he’s perfected over the years.

You can actually go through the songs one by one and find something different and wonderful each time. The aching longing sound in the guitar for “Bottom Of The Sea”, “Everything Has Changed” which has the feel to these ears of something off “Time Out Of Mind” era Dylan, but which shows that on this record Rick Steff’s keyboards are right to the forefront, as they are again on the utterly gorgeous “Always Been You.”

To be truthful, though, everything here is shot through with a class. “Cover Me” is charged up with an electricity and it’s rabble rousing lead guitar makes it a real highlight amongst many, “Too My Dearest Wife” is country from the classic mould, as it tells its tale of a soldier going into battle: “to my dearest wife I write, kiss our baby girls tonight” comes loaded with poignancy, while the military style drum beat only heightens the tension. Likewise “Long Way Back Home” is told from the viewpoint of three brothers “who never really think about what’s outside the law” and if these are the type of stories that people have mused over since men first picked up guitars, then I’d venture to suggest that with the organ giving this just the right sense of foreboding, then they’ve rarely been done better.

“Loving” changes the vibe. Acoustic and fragile, and just lovely (there is no better word), while “Back To The Night” pulls of the trick of sounding epic despite being just over four minutes. Again though, it’s the first line that sets the tone: “Back to the night, the kind the dawn never breaks” sings Nichols, as if he’s not slept for months.

The record ends with “The Lonely Ones” and there is a real stoicism about it too. A real rock n roll heart, a horn section that Southside Johnny would be proud of and the suggestion that all is going to be alright in the end.

If you still need to know why Lucero rule consider this: They got their name out of a dictionary and none of them can speak Spanish. I’ve loved that fact for two decades and needed to share, and if, in those two decades they’ve never made a bad record, then “Among The Ghosts” truly is one of the best of their career.

Rating 9/10

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