Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real are fulfilling all their promise
Austin360 On The Record is a weekly roundup of new, recent and upcoming releases by local and Austin-associated recording artists.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)" (Fantasy). It's a bit of a stretch to include this record in a roundup of local releases, given that Promise of the Real formed in Los Angeles and Lukas Nelson grew up more in pop Willie's second home of Hawaii than in Austin. But he did spend some formative years here, and family ties continue to give him honorary Austinite status.
More importantly, "Turn Off the News" deserves attention because this is a career-making album. The group's 2017 self-titled major-label debut assured Lukas and his pals were emerging from their role as Neil Young's backing band and coming into their own. Now they've gone supernova with an instantly engaging roots-based rock & roll record that firmly lays to rest any coattails considerations.
Major-league studio whiz John Alagia co-produced with Nelson and the band, helping to keep the band sharply focused on a batch of songs that all belong: There's no dead weight here. The frame is the title track, which appears in full-band glory near the start of the album and stripped-down acoustic form at the end. Sheryl Crow adds distinctive harmonies to the first version, which belongs in any "song of the summer" conversation; though it's a socially conscious tune on the surface, its "build a garden with me" subtext ultimately feels more personal than political.
"Bad Case" is an immediately infectious opening track, a brilliant kiss-off tune that walks the fine line between acidic and empathetic. The propulsively rhythmic "Something Real" shows the band's heavier side, while the slightly carnivalesque "Stars Made of You" shines a light on Lukas as a lyricist with his father's gift for imagery: "When stars made of you, fall from the sky."
Lots of guests turn up. That's Willie taking a verse on the lively "Civilized Hell," with Shooter Jennings and the indie duo Lucius among the backing vocalists. Margo Price chimes in with harmonies on "Lotta Fun"; she's a perfect fit for a footloose tune that includes the line, "Gonna buy a little weed in the marijuana store." Kesha sings on "Save a Little Heartache," and Neil Young plays pump organ on the acoustic version of "Turn Off the News."
It seems everyone wants a piece of this action — including the Rolling Stones, who booked Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real to open two of their upcoming U.S. tour dates. Released June 14, "Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)" topped the Billboard country charts in its first week of release. We're only halfway through 2019, but this may be the record of the year so far.
Here's the band performing "Bad Case" on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" last week:
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JULY 12: Welsh Avenue, “New Ways” EP, release show July 5 at Butterfly Bar.
JULY 26: Guy Forsyth & Jeska Bailey, “Conspirators.”
AUG. 2: Beat Root Revival, “Up,” release show Aug. 2 at 04 Center.
AUG. 9: Jesse Dayton, “Mixtape, Vol. 1.”
AUG. 16: Hanna Barakat, “Siren,” release show Aug. 30 at Come & Take It Live.
AUG. 23: Midland, "Let It Roll" (Big Machine).
AUG. 23: Croy & the Boys, “Howdy High-Rise,” release show Aug. 24 at Sam’s Town Point.