The uncompromisingly rough country-punk band Lucero is an odd choice for a major-label pickup, but on 1372 Overton Park, the group's first outing for Universal Republic Records, the band adds the bright horns of Memphis soul to the mix—and the pairing starts making sense.
As gruff as ever, singer Ben Nichols recalls "falling in love to the sounds of the city," but the record is equally about falling in love with the city itself. The horns, arranged by Memphis saxophone legend Jim Spake, are no minor flourish, but instead a major element of the record. The polished horns mostly fit right in, but they also produce some moments of incongruity that come at the expense of Lucero's ragged charm, built over a decade and seven previous albums.
Curiously, the strongest song on 1372 Overton Park is the one that wades the deepest back into Lucero's country roots. Guided by pedal steel, "Hey Darlin' Do You Gamble?" is a plea from a shunted romantic in which the purposely understated words themselves—"I believe you should run with me, for a while"—contrast with Nichols' unrestrained scream of longing and passion.
Produced by Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Flogging Molly), 1372 Overton Park can't help but draw comparisons with the Avett Brothers' I and Love and You, another major-label debut this year from scruffy underdogs. And as on that record, the newer elements and slick production work best when they don't distract.
Even at its weakest moments, 1372 Overton Park still sounds like Lucero—just less so.