There it is, I said it, the obligatory mention of Lukas Nelson’s father that must follow him around like a blessing and a curse and has accompanied him to every interview, review, and mention of this album, his voice, etc. It’s one reason it took me so long to review this. The music of Lukas Nelson fascinated me from the opening listen, but it takes time to separate preconceived notions about a person, and Lukas Nelson has, at least with the talent displayed on this record, earned the right to be considered both apart from and alongside his father. So let’s set all the wondering aside and consider Lukas Nelson and his music as yes, perhaps influenced by, but independent of, that of his famous father.
And the influence? Yes, it is there, but only at times, and seemingly on purpose. There’s country on this record, but also blues and rock. There’s Texas, yes, but Hawaii too, where Lukas spent much of his time partly to develop his own identity. There’s a struggle for identity here in these songs which both separates these tracks and unifies them; they sound much different from one another, but the very struggle that Lukas Nelson finds himself in seems to be the overarching theme here and holds these songs together. The result is a lot of variety, and perhaps something for everyone, though probably most will not enjoy this whole record.
The best moments here are the ones where Lukas Nelson really is just being himself. A track like the incredible “Forget about Georgia” seems to find that balance of all his influences and blend them perfectly into a sound all his own. It explores the relationship of the name of a woman and the state of Georgia; he can’t forget the woman because night after night, he sings songs about the place and is forced to recall her name. The extended outro in songs like this and “Set me Down on a Cloud” really add to the overall atmosphere of the album, creating a relaxed tone. You can imagine Lukas sitting on a beach somewhere in Hawaii playing these songs, and that suits him and the music.
But there’s also energy on this album, a thing lacking in so many country and Americana projects in 2017. “Die Alone” is a fun, catchy love song that leans closer to rock than probably any other style, and “Four Letter Word” provides an upbeat look at the perils of marriage, asserting that “real commitment is absurd. Out here in the country, forever is a four-letter word.” Inasmuch as he seems relaxed on the slower, more introspective songs, Lukas Nelson also seems to be especially engaged on the faster material. That serves to unite these songs too, as he always seems to just be generally enjoying himself.
There are some songs here that as a music fan, I just find a little boring. “If I Started Over” especially bores me, along with “Just Outside of Austin” to a degree. These are slower, more similar to the first set of songs I highlighted, but without the extended instrumental solos that brightened the first set. But some of the best songwriting can be found here, and it underscores my earlier point; the songs are so different from one another throughout the album that you probably won’t enjoy every single track on the record. But it’s simply a matter of personal taste. There’s not much critically wrong with this record, but different people will gravitate toward different tracks because this album is so varied in style and sound.
So, ultimately, it’s a bit of a difficult record to judge because the assets are also the flaws. The very struggle for identity that holds this record back also provides a nice variety throughout the album. It’s not a country record or a blues record or a rock record; it’s a Lukas Nelson record, and that’s why it’s so hard to define and also why it’s not sure of what it wants to be, because Lukas isn’t quite sure yet himself. The similarity in tone that draws comparisons between Lukas and his father, quite uncanny on certain tracks, both renders it nearly impossible not to think of Willie and also adds that inexplicable coolness embodied in the fact that Lukas carries the spirit of his father. But still, the songs where Lukas manages to insert his unique talent as a vocalist and a songwriter are the ones that hold up the strongest, and in sheer vocal talent, Lukas not only should be considered beside Willie, but might actually surpass him on that front. So go into this record appreciating that Lukas Nelson got some of the best of Willie, but even more than that, appreciate that this is unique to Lukas, and that is what makes this album so intriguing. Don’t go into it looking for straight-up country, just go into it looking for Lukas Nelson, and you’ll probably enjoy a good chunk of this album.