After the country rock rumble of Stay Restless Austin Lucas has stumbled further down that path to come up with the glistening jewel that is Between The Moon and The Midwest. I say glistening but shimmering would do just as well as there are moments here when the music does just that, it shimmers. Sure enough it’s laden with pedal steel and ringing telecasters, the ghost of George Jones is in the mix and there are some glorious duets with Lydia Loveless but Lucas, in tandem with Glossary’s Joey Kneiser has swathed the album in a sixties like sheen. Elements of Gram Parsons’ Cosmic American Music, Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Lineman and even Brian Wilson’s teenage symphonies are all recalled while there’s a nod to the more recent metaphysical musings of Sturgill Simpson. There’s even, if you dig into the lyrics, a concept of sorts, several characters appearing in several of the songs.
The album opens with a welter of sounds as if the band were tuning up like an orchestra before Unbroken Hearts hits its sweet country stride. Riding the range here like Waylon Jennings, Lucas lays his cards on the table from the start singing, “I’ve been told to walk away nearly every time I make an album. I hear there’s no good men left, everyone in Nashville’s deaf, sad songs are a thing of the past.” Thankfully over the ten songs here he proves conclusively that those deaf guys are in the wrong. Unbroken Hearts itself proves the point, its muscular Jennings chug leavened by some gliding pedal steel and chiming guitar especially at the end of the song as they spiral away. Lucas digs into the muscle and sinews of country rock throughout the album. Ain’t We Free rips away like Doug Sahm rocking the Armadillo back in the seventies, the curling guitars going apeshit while The Flame is introduced with a tremendous thick stringed grungy guitar strum that propels the song into a cosmic honky tonk heaven with a stinging pedal steel solo that recalls the fuzz fuelled efforts of Buddy Cage and Sneaky Pete back in the days. Wrong Side Of The Dream ripples along like The Burritos backing Gram and Emmylou with Lydia Loveless trading lines with Lucas in fine fashion before Lucas dips into George Jones territory for the piano led tear stained heartache of Pray For Rain.
An album composed of the above would already be well worth listening to but Lucas and Kneiser up the ante with a brace of songs that, as we said above, positively shimmer. Next To You is at heart a country ballad but it’s dressed up in a sumptuous confection of guitar and pedal steel that is like a heat haze conjuring up Dave Crosby and Israel Nash’s psychedelic country visions. Call The Doctor is like Jackson Browne or the Eagles on speed, the band whipping up a frenzied beat like a Koyaanisqatsi fast motion version of California freeway driving as Lucas thrashes around envisioning his own death. Death and dying are writ large on the closing song, Midnight (the album was recorded as Lucas was recovering from a period of depression) and here he just excels. A return to the mix of Parsons’ cosmic aspirations and old fashioned country writing that opened the album, here Lucas sounds like Willie Nelson sleepwalking with Santos and Johnny over a fluorescent nightscape, Steve Daly’s pedal steel lighting the way. It’s impossible really to convey just how good this song is, you really need to hear it. Aside from the perfect delivery the lyrics are somewhat amazing as Lucas sings
Let the devil have his horns and heathen souls.
Midnight, I’m too young to feel this old.
Only two ways this can end,
I’ve got to die or find Jesus, don’t know which one is worse.
I might die cursed, at least it’s an end
And if I’m born again I’ll live with a hole where my heart should have been.
If you’re somewhat restless waiting for that next Sturgill Simpson album to drop then grab this, it will not only tide you over, it might even be better.
The album’s released on 19th February and Lucas is playing some UK dates to tie in with that. Dates here