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Lucero gets compared most often to Bruce Springsteen for their street minded stories. But Tom Petty might be a better parallel, both for sound and subject. Like Petty, they have a talent for southern tinged guitar pop. And like Petty, Lucero is less concerned with social issues and the economy and more caught up in chasing women and the heartbreak fallout. Because sometimes, that’s all that matters.

Ben Nichols has one of the most instantly recognizable voices in indie rock. It’s a combination of sand and whiskey and smoke, but he never sounds menacing or dangerous. He’s consistently warm, charismatic, the lovable down-on-his-luck charming hero. With that voice and his storytelling, he evaporates cynicism and makes you care about those sad faced drunks and love struck losers that populate his songs. Country music works because it’s storytelling of the simplest order: small words, concise images, ordinary subjects. Fellow alt-country stars like Sixteen Horsepower might be more arty, and Drive-By Truckers might be more raucous and Son Volt might be more literate, but Lucero is the most personal and heartfelt.

‘Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers’ is a step toward full on rock and roll. The songs are denser, with multiple layers of instruments, bringing in accordion and pianos, and a stronger guitar attack. But Nichols isn’t changing his persona for anyone. This is still a southern country rooted affair, which Nichols defiantly announces on the first song ‘What Else Would You Have Me Be?’ The band picks up the pace on cuts like ‘I Don’t Wanna Be The One’ and ‘I Can Get Us Out of Here’, which turns a clumsy drunken pickup into a joyous street anthem.

Something does get lost in the transition though. Gone is the straight melancholy and somber introspection of earlier albums like ‘Tennessee’. ‘Rebels’ settles on ballsy rock and roll to get its point across. It works on some songs like ‘The Mountain’, which opens with the brilliant line “Her daddy lost most everything/on horses, whiskey, and wedding rings” and then swings into the most fist pumping guitar solo they’ve yet recorded. But others like ‘Sing Me No Hymns’ and ‘Cass’ never quite take off and make you wish they’d dial it back down and do another heartbreaker about pretty girls that are too young for them.

Despite the misses, ‘Rebels’ holds up with it’s consistent sound and that undying charm that Nichols brings. Newcomers to the band might do well to check classics like ‘Nobody’s Darlings’, but fans will be satisfied that Lucero can adapt their sound for a larger audience and still maintain their character and emotional clarity.