Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real – ‘Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real’ (Fantasy Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Thursday, 21 September 2017 04:20

LukasNelsonTPOTR rgbThe name Lukas Nelson really should need no introduction to some of Über Rock’s more eclectically tasted readers, but also will be one unfamiliar to many others, so let’s give him a brief introduction… His surname is a bit of a giveaway, as he is indeed the son of the original country bandit, Willie Nelson, and therefore could be regarded as the closest thing that both that genre and the Godforsaken USofA gets to royalty. Not that he has used his daddy’s name to get to where he is today: no sir. Nothing could be further from the truth. What it has taken is ten years of graft and grind, both as a solo artist and with his band backing up another legend of the music business, Mr Neil Young (ah, yes, now the penny drops!). What is hard to believe, however, is that it has taken him the length of that decade of toil and travel to produce this, his debut album.


And you instantly get the feel, from the tumbleweed dobro intro of ‘Set Me Down On A Cloud’, that this album is very much born from that experience, and from soaking up the influences of the many dozens of different artists who inevitably have circulated throughout his 28 years on this planet. And, despite his relative youth, there also is a remarkable maturity to this 11-track offering. His laconic drawl on the aforesaid opening track is that of a man weary from years of playing dusty bars, tinged with the smoke of cheap cigars and even cheaper whiskey, just yearning for that dose of reality which so many artists must inevitably crave given the cocoon within which they spend most of their lives. It is a reality check echoed in his expressed desire to “keep my feet on the ground” (although there is no doubt that his father, given the ups and downs of his own career, has helped him to do just that). The song itself is a cross between country and gospel, demonstrating the blurring of the lines between the two genres, built around an achingly beautiful slide guitar motif which haunts the listener long after it has disappeared into the sunset on the road to its next gig.


‘Die Alone’ ups the tempo somewhat, introducing a touch of the blues with its thumping rhythm, swelling organ backdrop and instantaneously catchy joyous chorus, before the middle section blends a blistering but brief country-blues solo which in turn evolves into a really sweetly picked little acoustic riff before Nelson takes the song home in simplistically wonderful style. ‘Fool Me Once’ very much draws on the southern well plumbed by everyone from the Allmans and Skynyrd to Black Stone Cherry and marks another change of pace, as you can just imagine Nelson and his boys sitting on their porch, sippin’ moonshine and just jamming out tunes.


‘Just Outside Of Austin’, ironically, has a sort of late Sixties Californian feel to it, easing in with a piano/banjo combo before Nelson’s reminiscent vocals really do evoke those of his father: combined with follow up ‘Carolina’, it’s one of the occasional moments when you can feel old Willie’s stamp on this otherwise highly individual album. ‘Runnin’ Shine’, which closes off what would side one if this wasn’t a download, is another pure country number: it’s title suggests it might be an uptempo, racy little number, but it’s actually a very laidback acoustic-led, almost remorseful piece, speaking of a man content with his lot and enjoying the simple little things in life, like it’s title.


Taking us into the second half, ‘Find Yourself’ is another of the album’s more epic six minute-plus tracks, and also one of the more intriguing ones: on the surface a relatively straightforward country-gospel number, built on a simple stomping beat and very basic riff, it takes a surprising turn when you realize that the strident female vocal is none other than pop diva Lady Gaga; not that that matters one jot, as it is a powerful tune, highlighted by another wonderful guitar breakdown in its latter section.



‘Four Letter Word’ sees Nelson veer sideways into the world of rock ‘n’ roll, with a Cash-style vocal over a Berry-esque riff and the sort of melody that would make Leiber and Stoller choke on their cornflakes wondering why they’d never come up with it. Think Kris Kristofferson and Dan Baird jamming with the Robinson brothers and your sort of in the ballpark. ‘High Times’ is plucked straight from the Dylan/Young songbook, with its direct lyric and fuzzed out guitar riff, which just threatens to explode into furious life, which it just fails to do but is all the more effective for its laconicism.


‘Breath Of My Baby’ is one of those fairly standard country paeans with which will be painfully familiar to many of us, and again could very well have been penned and recorded by his father. Like ‘Just Outside Of Austin’ and ‘Carolina’, however, it quickly will have non-country fans reaching for the skip button – as will ‘Forget About Georgia’, which is more standard country fare, rescued only by its haunting dobro backdrop and sweet slide solo section. ‘If I Started Over’ brings the album full circle, with a very simple piano rhythm and another sweet slide riff, but the vocal is twee and its pastiche lyrics spoil the passion of the delivery, creating an ultimate feeling of dissatisfaction at how the album has gradually disappeared into the nearest swamp.


This is an album very much steeped in the heritage of Nelson’s upbringing, which is both inevitable and understandable. But he also manages to bring the country sound up to date, not merely by giving it a fresh lick of paint but by making it sound “modern” and fresh, in the process producing a release which, in its best and all too few innovative moments, definitely, and defiantly, contains plenty of cross-genre appeal. Now, forgive me folks – I’m away to sit on my porch (well, the back step) and sip me some rather fine bourbon-style whiskey…


‘Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real’ is out now.


Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real play The Borderline in London on Wednesday 18 October.


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