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Lucero have produced their most confident, best-sounding album yet.

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On this second studio album for major label EastWest Records, Lucero debuts a sound big enough to fill the arenas they don't yet play. The drums boom. The guitar riffs reach for the rafters. And, in an unexpected twist for what has for years been a four-piece guitar-bass-drums band, rock-and-roll piano comes rising out of the mix.

That last is courtesy of local session/sideman ace Rick Steff, whose addition as a "fifth" Lucero member for this record is a stroke of inspiration. Steff plays piano, organ, farfisa, and accordion on the record and fits in beautifully. But his piano, in particular, shines. The instrument is a perfect fit for the rock-and-roll romanticism this band has always trafficked in.

The songs on Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers are mostly the same kinds of songs frontman Ben Nichols has been writing for years: lovelorn songs about girls met or missed on the road, spilling out from beer-soaked bars into the streets. Sometimes the simplicity of the songs has been touching. At other times the simplicity has been annoying. But this time the songs are matched with music that elevates that simplicity to something more epic. At its best, the album is like Born To Run stripped of verbosity, reduced to the music's basic promise ("I Can Get Us Out of Here" is how Lucero ably shorthands it), which, as in Springsteen, is destined to go unfulfilled.

After recording their previous five albums in the Memphis area, the band traveled to Richmond to record with alt-rock notable David Lowry. The clarity and command of the record surpass everything in the band's catalog. Old fans may think it's too slick or commercial (and this old fan does prefer the artier rise-and-fall dynamics documented on the band's first two albums, at least in theory). This is after all, a rock record where the most ear-catching riff is cribbed, without irony and probably accidentally, from Asia's "The Heat of the Moment." -- Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

www.myspace.com/lucero

www.luceromusic.com

Look for more on Lucero's new sound in next week's Flyer.

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