The rabbit in the headlights cover photo depicts a man with a troubled past.
We learn that Austin Lucas has struggled to maintain sobriety before, during and after a marital break up. He has also faced the stress of supporting his new partner battling with cancer, a subject addressed directly in The Shadow And Marie. A split with his long-time record label, New West, did nothing to raise the spirits.
His seventh record was co-produced by Lucas and Will Johnson and recorded/engineered live in the studio by Steve Albini. It is described as "a clear-eyed album for murkier times".
He is influenced by the mountain music of his father, bluegrass musician Bob Lucas, as well as the punk records he listened to as a teenager, but there are no hoe-downs or three-chord wonders on this release.
His home town of Bloomington, Indiana which he left, and recently returned to, is a central theme of this album. The songs explore how this Midwestern town has shaped his character. "I was watching the changes in Bloomington and reflecting upon the changes in my own life" he says.
Having sobered and loss weight, these are songs about fighting demons, finding a sense of identity and searching for a fresh direction in life. The title track is dedicated to the most marginalized who live on the outside of mainstream society without the security of a safety net.
Lucas looks back without any fake nostalgia. In Monroe County Nights, he conjures up a bleak perspective of the past: "By-and-by we all are shackled, caged by county lines, wired blood-drunk and born into the fight".
With a focus on acoustic instruments and a restrained rhythm section, the power comes from the words and the stripped back rawness of the arrangements of what he calls "an in-the-moment kind of album" and his summary of the contents is cautiously optimistic : "Not all of this is happy stuff, but there's hope".
This a fine, honest and personal album in which the sense of catharsis is tangible.
Austin Lucas' website