Lucero frontman Ben Nichols has a voice that barely ranges at all, and he sings in an exaggerated grunt that's like Bob Seger with a throat full of phlegm, but in the context of Lucero's songs—all burning-ember guitars and raw need—Nichols' vocals are as natural as smoke. On the band's new album, Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Nichols pushes his voice a little more than usual, but that mainly means he rasps higher and longer. Mostly, he lies back and lets his bandmates rumble along at their usual parade-stride pace, while adjunct member Rick Steff fills in the gaps with tinkling piano and sustained organ riffs.
The added keyboards do more than just give Lucero some new textures. In the case of the unsteady ballad "1979," the piano practically holds the song together while Nichols stumbles toward lucidity, and on the stomping cowpunk anthem "I Don't Wanna Be The One," the Mysterians-style organ solo gives the song a moment of ecstatic release. When the band works a quiet (but not exactly soft) melody between the piano stabs of "She Wakes When She Dreams," or when Nichols follows the stately rhythm of "I Can Get Us Out Of Here" to a coda where he unleashes a guitar solo that's like Bruce Springsteen mimicking Jimi Hendrix, the classic-rock instrumentation and gruff passion absolutely transfixes. If Lucero stays on this course, the band could be the hick Hold Steady.