You can't take the country out of the boy, but at some point it just becomes a strut, an air, a way of rocking. Though Lucero started out sounding neo-traditional enough to have followed Son Volt, Ben Nichols and his partner Brian Venable were punks looking to cheek off their peers. Cody and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) helped out on their first two albums, giving the homespun Americana sonic warmth, but with each successive album, the guitars have dug deeper, and the grimy grind's gotten a little thicker. Venable left prior to 2003's That Much Further West, but after a series of replacements and personal catastrophes, Venable returned in time to record many of the guitar parts on Lucero's latest, Nobody's Darlings. Recorded by the Dickinsons' dad Jim, it's a sizzling amalgam of X's rockabilly rumble and the Replacements' ragged sway, a third-generation blend of gruff rock/punk attitude and Bakersfield C&W. It's still got a certain rustic amble, but more important, it kicks like classic Mick Taylor-era Stones. Critical faves Drive-By Truckers get more press, but Lucero's hot on their tail.