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The First Rule of Alt-Country: Don’t talk about Alt-Country

Alt-country heroes / victims Lucero play the new Strutting Duck next Saturday.

The idea that he and others of his rootsy ilk have sired something magically, musically alt-original sends guitarist Brian Venable’s eyes rolling.

For over 10 years, Venable’s band Lucero has been one of the better-known acts blessed and cursed by the “alt-country” label, a know-it-when-you-hear-it catch-all coined for hipsters who dig Hank Williams by hipsters who dig Hank Williams (Sr. only, duh).

Venable, like everybody, hates the term. And he can tell you exactly when he first heard it.

“It was after we played our very first show,” he says. “Or I guess it was our third show. We were punk rock kids and I started listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Buck Owens and stuff. This guy came up and said ‘Man, that alt-country is getting real hot.’ I was like, ‘what in the world are you talking about?’”

The guy told Venable he should check out the magazine No Depression, the genre’s holy scripture. He did.

“Emmy Lou Harris was on the cover,” he said. “I thought I was being all original. I mean, I knew about The Blasters and The Scorchers, but never thought of it as alt-country. That’s the first time I ever heard of it. I could punch the guy who came up with that term in the throat and kill him. But it’s not as bad as ‘y’allternative.’”

Despite 15 years of semantic baggage, “alt-country” is still supposed to imply disdain for modern Nashville, rhinestones, and the perceived boot-skootin’ dandification of country music, i.e. pop with a twang.

Maybe that’s why Lucero’s first album for Universal, 1372 Overton Park, is a veritable soul record, with nearly every song drenched in the horn arrangements that helped put their hometown of Memphis on the musical map; if Venable has anything to say about it, you can come out to the Strutting Duck on the 27th and hear exactly what alt-country isn’t.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m really glad [people] like us, but we just play rock ‘n’ roll.”

Who: Lucero

Where: The Strutting Duck Ale House, 124 Tichenor Ave.

When: Saturday, February 27. Show starts at 10 p.m.

About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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