It's taken more than a decade as charismatic frontman for local rockers Lucero, but Ben Nichols is finally going solo — temporarily. While his band gets ready to record its Universal Records debut for a 2009 release, Nichols has taken some time for a solo side project. The result is The Last Pale Light in the West, a seven-song EP recorded at Easley Studios in August with sometime touring sidemen Rick Steff (accordian, piano) and Todd Beene (pedal steel, electric guitar) coloring the edges of Nichols' otherwise solo-acoustic songs.
For a songwriter largely prone to the autobiographical, to observations that hew closely to the band's own touring-club-musician lives, The Last Pale Light in the West feels like a songwriting exercise and probably a useful one. The tracks here are an extension of the narrative songs Nichols has written about his grandfather's military experiences, but this time they are devoted to entirely fictional situations, some (all?) apparently inspired by Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian.
It's a collection of Western folk songs and murder ballads, and I'll confess that I'm not a big fan of the format and don't find much interest in the details of these hard-bitten outlaw tales. But Nichols' naturally husky voice is a good match for the material and sounds great rumbling around these spare but still lively arrangements. The Last Pale Light in the West works, in part, because Nichols and his sidemen don't indulge dark atmospherics to the degree indie- and alt-country-types tend to when giving this kind of material a spin. "Davy Brown," to choose a representative example, has a nice gallop to it that is matched by Nichols' nimble delivery on the chorus: "One step ahead of that hangman's noose/Gonna take 'em all with ya when they come for you." ("Davy Brown," "Tobin") — Chris Herrington
Lucero plays Young Avenue Deli Saturday, November 29th. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Admission is $15.