Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real/A Few Stars Apart/Fantasy Records
4.5 out of Five Stars
It’s surely a difficult thing being the offspring of a legend and having to live up to a parent’s gilded reputation. Lukas Nelson knows that predicament all too well. The offspring of Willie Nelson, obviously one of the most iconic artists inhabiting the entire Americana lexicon and beyond, the younger Nelson and his brother Micah have faced a formidable task in trying to carve out a career that allows them to be measured on their own merits.
So far, they seem to have succeeded. Promise of the Real, the brothers’ band—now helmed solely by Lukas alone—has not only achieved a stellar reputation under its own aegis, but also become Neil Young’s current backing band of choice. Further proof of the younger Nelson’s credence comes in the form of a BAFTA Award for Best Original Music and a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media, accorded him for his work on the soundtrack for the film A Star Is Born. It’s little wonder, then, that the band’s new album, A Few Stars Apart, is helmed by Dave Cobb, no slouch himself in terms of reaping more than a few critical kudos.
That said, the new album stands on its own merits, even apart from the revered reputations tied to its creators. Inspired by the isolation and uncertainty that accompanied the arrival of the pandemic, the songs were supposedly inspired by the insights and introspect that Nelson absorbed during those difficult days and the months that followed.
Several of the selections — “We’ll Be Alright,” “Perennial Bloom (Back to You),” “Throwin’ Away Your Love,” “More Than We Can Handle,” and “A Few Stars Apart” in particular—reflect that pensive perspective. Yet, any hint of a downcast disposition is overshadowed by the resilience and optimism that drives the album overall.
The decidedly determined “Leave Em Behind” comes across as an affirmative anthem urging its listener not to be dragged down by the opinions of others and, instead, embrace one’s own strength and confidence. “Wildest Dreams,” the most assertive song of the set, offers a homage to those that show support to others even in the midst of the most adverse circumstances. Nelson’s vocals bear a hint of his father’s homespun humility (listen to the slight quiver his voice carries in “We’ll Be Alright,” “Giving You Away” and “Hand Me a Light”), and with the support of drummer Anthony LoGerfo, bassist Corey McCormick, percussionist Tato Melgar, and multi-instrumentalist Logan Metz, the music comes across as honest, emotional, credible and convincing. It is, to be sure, a decidedly solid set of songs, delivered with the drive and desire that the Nelson name is well known for.
Ultimately, Lukas Nelson proves that he is his father’s son—indeed, a song such as “Hand Me a Light” could have easily come courtesy of his dad’s catalog. Yet at the same time, he’s made it clear hat comparisons are no longer necessary. A Few Stars Apart brings him closer to the singular distinction he so decidedly deserves.
Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen