For five albums, Memphis' Lucero was just another traveling alt-country band: Good live show and rabid fans, but the albums never got much attention. It's ironic that the title of their latest LP, Nobody's Darlings, acknowledges this cult status at the very moment the band is becoming something deserving of national attention. "And We Fell" and "Sixteen" are rich with the not-quite-punk riffs you'd expect from a classic Replacements song, while the slight Skynyrd leanings of "Angalee" could've sneaked into Son Volt's alt-country classic Trace. The rest of the album sits somewhere between those two bands, yet isn't dominated by either side's influences, and "Bikeriders" nails the balancing act with pop-punk drums, Southern-rock guitars and the two-cartons-a-day vocals of Ben Nichols. His voice alone sells this album, particularly on the touching "Hold Me Close" in which he blames booze, New Year's Eve and anything else before finally admitting he's in love: "I feel the cold ground underneath my boots/And for no good reason, it reminds me of you." Of course, the next song opens with the line "Bloody knuckles and a broken nose," but Darlings' lyrics, despite tough overtones, are vulnerable. These are stories of boys in a man's world, tinged with both violence and regret, and Nichols' half-gravelly, half-nasal voice sells both extremes.


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