Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Few bands come with the pre-approval of not only Willie Nelson, but Neil Young. The former is somewhat of a given since Lukas is Willie’s son, but the association with Young is far more significant.

The legendary singer-songwriter not only hired Lukas and his group to record his Monsanto Years album, but replaced a long-standing relationship with the fabled Crazy Horse when he took Promise on the road with him as his backup band. The latter resulted in the live Earth but more importantly the two years spent touring behind Young infused both confidence and the Canadian’s notorious professionalism into Nelson and his group, already well established through nearly a decade of live work.

Since Promise of the Real had a history of meshing rock, blues, soul, folk and country, the Young connection just molded those genres into a mix that’s raw and authentic. The one time four-piece has also expanded its lineup for this Fantasy debut, adding three musicians to the established trio that backed up frontman Lukas. The new seven man outfit flexes its muscles quickly on the ruminating opener “Set Me Down on a Cloud.” It’s a slow brooding piece that builds over seven minutes to an explosive crescendo with powerful churchy backing singers but oddly fades out as things are getting really hot. Just to show that they can reel things in, the following “Die Alone” southern soul rocker crackles at a compact 2:37.

While there are other examples of how effectively P.O.T.R. works in the longer formant — specifically the Little Feat-influenced “Find Yourself” and lovely, languid ballad “Forget About Georgia,” both over six minutes — the tunes typically stick around the three minute mark. They also occasionally reflect the storytelling traits of some of his dad’s Texas peers such as Joe Ely and Guy Clark, especially on “Runnin’ Shine,” the tale of a moonshiner who is “doing fine, running ‘shine,” over languid pedal steel and banjo. Willie lends his inimitable lead acoustic guitar to the breezy “Just Outside of Austin” with its sunshiny “Everybody’s Talkin’” lope. While “Carolina” hews a little too closely to Jimmy Buffett “Margaritaville” territory, it displays the younger Nelson’s lighter side. 

You can hear Willie’s timbre in Lukas’ voice as he croons the honeyed “Breath of My Baby,” a love song with added strings sweetening an already tender track (with whistling) that will bring a tear to the most jaded eye. The closing “Starting Over” waltz time retro country weeper ballad is an original — as are all these songs — but sounds like something daddy Nelson might sing in his most vulnerable moments.

Ultimately, Lukas is carrying on Willie’s tradition, pushing the outlaw boundaries his famous father established in the ’70s and proving that the musical apple truly does not fall far from the tree.