Erin Wolf

Ben Nichols

By - Jan 1st, 2009 02:52 pm
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Ben Nichols, frontman for gritty rebel rockers Lucero, presents his first solo release, Last Pale Light In the West, a self-dubbed “mini-LP.” The mini LP is seven story-songs, pulling their tales from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985), a bleak, violence-ridden novel, packed full of historical and religious references.

Each song Nichols pens in Last Pale Light in the West is built around the novel and its characters; the title track sets the scene as Nichols leads, “Dark clouds gather round me / to the West my soul is bound.” The next introduces the novel’s protagonist, The Kid. In “The Kid,” Nichols sings, “Your mother died night you were born / her name you never knew / look away, look away / nothing to lose / left East Tennessee at fourteen / wandered to the West / look away, look away / born into death.”

With Lucero, Nichols has proved himself a natural-born storyteller, tales of bars and brawls narrated by his raspy drawl. This time around, his stories are not just of bars and brawls; those bars and brawls are scenes for something far deeper and more sinister, echoing McCarthy’s unblinking, soulless style. The music itself bucks up and simply tells the tales, not overdrawing a dark mood but lending a stripped down and plainly pretty backdrop, letting the lyrics do all of the novel’s dirty work.

Nichols, on acoustic guitar, paired with Rick Steff (Cat Power) on accordion and piano and Todd Beene (Glossary) on pedal steel and electric guitar, rolls ballads out slow and sure, like the rising and setting of the sun in a dusty Western sky, while the musicality of the songs shine up the rough pages within. Although more of a novella in terms of length, Last Pale Light in the West is all-encompassing of its original source, embodying a sense of history and depth and issuing an effect that’s fresh and endlessly intriguing, as the best stories often are.

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