Album: “Among the Ghosts”

Grade: A

Lucero has put out great records before, but for whatever reason — geography, confusion over genre, a lack of recognition from the folks who decide what gets heard — the Memphis-based quintet has never attained the level of stardom it probably deserves.

With “Among the Ghosts,” its ninth studio album, a fine under-the-radar rock ‘n’ roll band keeps getting better. Its songs are better-crafted, its lyrics and playing are more mature, and the rough-hewn sound that was always charming but rarely transcendent is as good as it has ever been.

Gone are the piano and guitar licks that occasionally sounded too much like Bruce Springsteen, though he remains an obvious influence. Gone, too, are the petulant lyrics that sometimes stood between singer-songwriter Ben Nichols and greatness.

In their place are gritty meditations on homesickness, poignant storytelling built around a Civil War soldier’s letter home, and honest, heartfelt love songs.

Nichols’ maturity is obvious, though he’s as vulnerable as ever. In the title cut, he pines from the road for his wife and baby girl, singing wistfully that “the first word she learned to say was goodbye.”

The band’s playing rises to the challenge such intimate lyrics pose. Rick Steff’s piano is less derivative, a more subtle complement to the gritty guitar playing that still drives the band’s sound.

The effect is more sophisticated without losing the rawness that always gave Lucero its edge — which might just make this the band’s finest album yet.

—Scott Stroud, Associated Press

The War and Treaty

Album: “Healing Tide”

Grade: A

Along with his considerable talents as a guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, bandleader and radio host, Buddy Miller is an excellent talent scout. In the case of the War and Treaty, Miller gave his stamp of approval — and a helping hand — to an act beyond his usual Nashville orbit.

Good call, Buddy, as always. Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter, the pride of Albion, Mich., are husband and wife and a powerhouse R&B duo who sound as though they were born to sing together.

Their full-length album debut, “Healing Tide,” is Americana in that it’s rooted in the nation’s pews, fields and street corners, all sweat and spirit and soul. Miller produced and captured the magic of the live performances that have caused such a buzz about the couple. The material draws from Sly Stone’s family but also the Carter Family, thanks to varied arrangements that include Dobro, banjo and autoharp.

Trotter, a wounded warrior who served in Iraq and once composed songs to honor fallen comrades, wrote all 11 tunes with a focus on the glory of love.

—Steven Wine, Associated Press

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