Album reviews: Scott Lucas has been a busy boy

October 26, 2010


No one ever will be able to fault that underrated local treasure Scott Lucas for a lack of ambition. Last year, during a bit of downtime with Local H, his long-running, melodic hard-rock duo with drummer Brian St. Clair, Lucas started another project with a group called the Married Men that debuted with a more lush, rootsy, and heartfelt album called “George Lassos the Moon” and live shows that, in one of his typically perverse twists, presented a “solo” project wherein the number of musicians onstage actually outnumbered those in Local H by more than three to one.

Now come not only two new offerings from Scott Lucas and the Married Men—“The Absolute Beginners EP,” which is accompanied by a bonus digital live album called “Who Listens To Radio Anymore?: Live Sessions” for anyone who buys the vinyl pressing—but a new EP of covers from his other band entitled “Local H’s Awesome Mix Tape #1.” And the quantity of new sounds by no means belittles the quality control.

In addition to his ability to craft indelible melodies, even when they’re delivered amid a wall of fuzz and thundering drums, one of Lucas’ strengths as a songwriter always has been a razor-sharp wit as a lyricist, coupled with a novelist’s eye for telling details. The Married Men showcase the latter in a different setting, amid sawing violins, sweeping piano lines, wheezing accordion and organ, and seductive acoustic guitar that welcome comparisons to the likes of American Music Club and Tindersticks. Just as importantly, they’re presented minus the alt-era sarcasm and ironic distance of his other group: When Lucas sings about love here, it’s with earnest longing and soulful yearning, as opposed to the anger, self-deprecation, and humorous despair of, say, Local H’s brilliant 2008 breakup album, “12 Angry Months.”

Named for a well-chosen cover of the song David Bowie wrote as the theme for Julien Temple’s proto-mod cult film “Absolute Beginners,” the key tune actually is the Married Men’s inspired reworking of the Local H song “Hey, Rita,” which makes apparent not only the well-defined differences between its author’s two musical vehicles, but the strengths of the songs at the heart of both projects, and their ability to transcend genre. (It would be great to hear Lucas release an acoustic album spanning his career at some point.)

Reinterpretation obviously is on the artist’s mind, as Local H’s latest tackles the same goal from a different direction. The duo long has been celebrated for its (sometimes spontaneous) live covers, but “Local H’s Awesome Mix Tape #1” is the first time it’s concentrated on other artists’ work in the studio, and the track list and fun quotient vary far and wide, from surprisingly successful versions of “Time” by Pink Floyd, “Puss” by the Jesus Lizard, and a furious “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio, to a significantly less impressive “Joey” by Concrete Blonde (which sucks in the original and isn’t much better here).

Neither of these new studio efforts rank with the handful of desert-island discs Lucas has given us in the past. But both are essential for fans, strong introductions for the uninitiated, and welcome appetizers for the next full album from each group.

Scott Lucas and the Married Men, “The Absolute Beginners EP” (G&P Records) Rating: ★★★☆

Local H, “Local H’s Awesome Mix Tape #1” (G&P Records) Rating: ★★★☆

Scott Lucas and the Married Men perform at the Empty Bottle tonight after opening sets by Kevin Tihista’s Red Terror and Moxie Motive starting at 10 p.m. Local H performs at Shark City in Glendale Heights on Nov. 26 and at 115 Bourbon St. in Merrionette Park on Nov. 27.