If country music is music for the common person, nobody elevates those experiences to high art like Austin Lucas. The classically-trained singer sounds better than ever on his new album Immortal Americans, out today (Aug. 17). Lucas is a gifted songwriter whose elegant poetry and angelic voice will truly take your breath away -- especially if you get to experience his music in person. Lucas' lyrics are often florid -- but never over-the-top. Between his lyrics and his choir-boy tenor, Lucas' songs feel as if they've been taken right out of the Middle Ages. Thanks to his unique alchemy, his songs about everyday people and their struggles transmute into epic ballads.
The years since the release of Lucas's previous album, a psych-country pleasure called Between the Moon and the Midwest, have been among Lucas's most challenging. Lucas got sober, parted with his longtime record label New West Records, supported his girlfriend's battle with cancer, and the loss of his long-time canine companion and concert staple, Sally. (This isn't in the press materials but I can reliably report that she was a Very Good Dog.) However, this was also a transformative chapter in the Indiana native's life: in addition to getting sober, Lucas also gave up cigarettes, giving his voice a leathery quality with an even more expansive range. With his newfound health and confidence, and with an extraordinary album helmed by the legendary Steve Albini and Centro-matic's Will Johnson at Albini's Electrical Audio in Chicago, it is safe to say that Lucas is sounding better than ever.
The album opener pulls double-duty as its title track, introducing the listener to the record's major themes. "Immortal Americans" invokes the nostalgia of bands like the Gaslight Anthem and American Aquarium for an America of rock & roll and small-town values. However, Lucas shows his punk roots and uses the song, a tapestry of stripped-down heartland rock, acoustic guitar, and Lucas's tenor, to critique a the contrast between the mythologies surround those larger-than-life figures and their lived realities. The song is one part ghostly and two parts majestic. The thing about Lucas is that even his most strident views are delivered with gentle compassion, as can be seen of Lucas's objection to traditional definitions of masculinity on "Killing Time."
To me, Lucas's greatest strength as a songwriter and a human is his ability to wear his heart on his sleeve. I joke with my friends that I like to listen to Americana by punk dudes (whom Lucas has collaborated with) from Midwestern towns who hit their late twenties and mellowed out. Where Lucas distinguishes himself is his unapologetic examinations of his youth and his sincere warmth for all human beings. An Austin Lucas album isn't about the crappy things you did as a kid and wishing you hadn't; it's looking at those days and expressing a fondness for that baby version of you -- a theme that Lucas develops most fully on "Shallow Inland Sea."
I think Lucas shines brightest when he makes his music a family affair. On "Goat and Goose," Lucas recounts the story of his father -- a midwestern hippie -- courting his New York City mother. With his father Bob Lucas providing banjo and sister Chloe Manor on vocals, Lucas's origin story is a vision of radical hope in another tumultuous period in our history. It suggests that no matter how uncertain things seem, we have to make it better for the people who come after us, who will continue to carry the torch once we've passed it. Under Johnson and Albini's direction, Immortal Americans highlights Lucas's ability to create an intricate weaving of elaborate lyrics and masterful picking into the sound it was always meant to be.
Immortal Americans is available on August 17 from Cornelius Chapel Records.
Immortal Americans Track List:
1. "Immortal Americans"
2. "Killing Time"
4. "Monroe County Nights"
5. "My Mother and the Devil"
6. "Eye of an Asp"
7. "The Shadow and Marie"
8. "Between the Leaves"
9. "Goat and Goose"
10. "Shallow Inland Sea"
Aug 17 -- Bloomington Ind. - The Bishop
Aug 18 -- Columbus Ohio -- Rumba Cafe
Aug 31 -- Birmingham Ala. -- Seasick Records (In-store appearance)
Sept 12 -- Nashville, Tenn. -- AMERICANAFEST
Sept 14 - Chicago, Ill. - Cobra Lounge*
Sept 16 -- Pittsburgh, Pa. -- Club Café*
Sept 17 -- Buffalo, N.Y. -- Rec Room*
Sept 18 -- Brooklyn, N.Y. -- Knitting Factory*
Sept 19 -- New York, N.Y. -- City Winery*
Sept 20 -- Garwood, N.J. - Crossroads*
Sept 21 -- Croydon, Pa. - Neshaminy Creek Brewing*
Sept 22 -- Ithaca, N.Y. -- The Haunt*
Sept 23 -- Boston, Mass. -- City Winery*
Sept 25 -- Virginia Beach, Va. - Shakas*
Sept 26 -- Washington, D.C. -- City Winery*
Sept 27 -- Richmond, Va. - Broadberry*
Sept 28 -- Atlanta, Ga. -- City Winery*
Sept 29 -- Cincinnati, OH - North Yacht Club*
Sept 30 -- Nashville, Tenn. -- City Winery*
* w/ Face To Face