After Memphis quartet Lucero’s third album, 2003’s That Much Further West, was hailed by the press (Rolling Stone dubbed it “the country album the Replacements never made”), the proverbial breakthrough seemed imminent. Alas, a label collapse and sundry business problems conspired against it. Licking its wounds, the quartet hunkered down and hooked up with fellow Memphian Jim Dickinson, who duly produced this smoking platter. It’s one part Drive-By Truckers (“Anjalee”), one part Jason & the Scorchers (“Bikeriders”) and, yeah, several parts ’Mats (chiming pop-twanger “Sixteen,” anthemic chuggers “Last Night In Town” and “Watch It Burn”). Throughout, Nichols — whose three-pack-a-day drawl evokes Paul Westerberg in his disheveled prime — weaves memorable tales of the human spirit simultaneously raised and crushed, love won and lost. His narrators often reveal a Springsteen-like grasp of life’s vicissitudes. Bottom line: Until the aforementioned Truckers get around to releasing their next record, Nobody’s Darlings wears the crown of this year’s best Southern rock album.

Fred Mills writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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