Did you know that Lukas Nelson is Willie Nelson’s kid? Yeah, you probably did. Did you know that Nelson worked with Bradley Cooper on songs for A Star Is Born and Nelson and his band Promise Of The Real played Cooper’s backing band in the film? You might have known that.
Or you didn’t know either of those things and in all honesty, hadn’t really heard of Nelson and his band. And that’s fine. There’s a lot of music out there. An act or 500 are bound to slip through the cracks. You are not alone. We’re in this together, friends.
But having a passing knowledge or even no knowledge of Nelson is a damn shame. For the better part of the last decade, Nelson and Promise Of The Real have been chugging along, perfecting their own take on down-home, road-weary, alt-country rock. They can kick the tires and get loud and they can hush the masses with tenderness all within a ten-minute span on one of their six albums with their seventh album, A Few Stars Apart released on Friday.
Rolling Stone has already declared the album Nelson’s best, saying that it’s “Nelson’s most compact, streamlined, and focused album yet.”
The album was written when Nelson was hunkered down at his dad’s place in Texas during quarantine. In between taking up meditation, learning Chopin on the piano, and jamming out with his father and brother Micah, Nelson wrote over two dozen songs. As Nelson laid out to Rolling Stone, once things cooled down a bit with the pandemic, Nelson and the band headed north for Nashville, setting up shop to record with producer Dave Cobb.
“We did a little surgical strike into Nashville. We snuck in and snuck out,” he says. (Don’t make me do it, Lukas Nelson.)
Here are eight songs from Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real’s discography you should check out if you haven’t already. And if you’re already hip to these, well, have you heard of Arlo Parks? Check her out.
There are two versions of this tune floating around the Nelsonverse, but I’m partial to the original, which comes from the band’s 2016 album Something Real. They gussied it up a bit and included a new version on their excellent 2019 album Turn Off The News (Build A Garden.) Both versions are killer but there’s more of an edge to the original, more of a shit-kicking vibe and I don’t need to tell you twice that Giddy Up America is incredibly pro-shit-kicking. This is bar fight music or if you’re a pacifist and/or not a drinker, it’s a hell of a driving song.
“Fool Me Once”
The band’s 2017 self-titled album is a solid restating of their purpose and goal and “Fool Me Once” is some mighty fine honky-tonk if you don’t mind me saying so. The song is some easy, Sunday afternoon, southern-living goodness and a nice tip of the cap to Nelson’s country roots. Sorry, not cap. Hat. Like a cowboy hat. That would make more sense all things considered.
“Start To Go”
It’s hard not to love a good EP, especially when it comes amidst a solid run of records by a group. 2018’s Forget About Georgia EP came on the heels of the 2017 self-titled album and before the band dropped Turn Off The News (Build A Garden.) It’s a quality placeholder between the two albums with the dirty rocker “Start To Go” being the highlight of the EP, which also features a cover of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” “Start To Go” is thumping and has some muscle behind it with a chorus that straight up soars.
Bradley Cooper met Nelson back in 2016 when Nelson and Promise Of The Real were performing at Desert Trip. Cooper asked Nelson to serve as a musical consultant for A Star Is Born and then Nelson and the band ended up playing Cooper’s backing band in the film. Nelson wrote a handful of songs for the film with one of them being “Black Eyes,” which opened the film. As was stated previously, Giddy Up America is very much pro-shit-kicking rock and “Black Eyes” is incredibly shit-kicking. Hell of an opener too, whether it’s for a movie, concert or an album.
“Turn Off The News (Build A Garden)” – Acoustic
As far as words of wisdom go, in 2019 there wasn’t much out there that was better than to turn off the fucking news and build a garden. The phrase anchored Nelson’s 2019 album of the same name. The album featured two versions of the title track and while the full-band version one is really good, there is something special about the acoustic version that shows up towards the end of the album. It’s haunting, beautiful, and honest with the message of the song pushing through even more with the overall sparsity of the acoustic version.
This is another a track from the 2019 album and while the album’s title is a motto, “Simple Life” is more of a mission statement from Nelson. Here’s a Texas dude who has relocated to Hawaii, happy to spend his days playing music, surfing and golfing barefoot. My dude doesn’t even keep score when he golfs (which either means he’s good or terrible based on my experience.) Heading into 2020, preaching the pleasures and appeal of a simple life is basically doing the world a public service and is advice more people should pay attention to.
Okay, this is the last tune from Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) and while I was hesitant to include three tracks from the album, I couldn’t choose just one or two. And you know, I’m not going to apologize. I stand by my decisions. Now, with that out of the way, on “Bad Case,” Nelson and company channel golden era Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, especially in the guitar tones and harmonies in the chorus. It’s a beautiful country rock tune that would probably would have been right at home in the mid-1970s on AM radio.
“My Own Wave”
“It’s like we’re playing live guys. We’re rolling”. “My Own Wave” kicks off with Nelson addressing his bandmates in the studio and also reflects the relaxed vibe of the 2020 album, which was a companion piece to Turn Off The News (Build A Garden.) The album is comprised of tunes that didn’t make the cut for the 2019 album as well as alternate versions of songs that did. Part of the band’s goal was to give a fans a glimpse behind the curtain of the band. Hey, that’s always fun. “My Own Wave” is just a simple, good-time, easy-going rocker that seems to benefit from the laid back atmosphere of the sessions.
But no really, turn off the fucking news and even if you don’t build a garden, just get outside for crying out loud.