From just the first few notable notes of “We’ll Be Alright,” the opening track of last year’s A Few Stars Apart, from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, it’s déjà vu all over again, and once-removed. Floating gracefully over a slow-going waltz pulse, Nelson’s vibrato-basted and carefully phrased tones make no mistake or apology about Lukas’s noble lineage as Willie Nelson’s boy making good.
In keeping with Willie’s general M.O., Lukas’s music is a positive and healing force, as he will have a chance to impart again when his band returns to town to The Arlington Theatre on Wednesday, August 24.
Lukas Nelson, alongside his brotherly cohort Micah, has played local stages multiple times, from intimate late-night sets at SOhO to the “big houses” with hip elders. There were the Nelson boys, backing up Willie at the Chumash Casino in 2011, and more substantially, appearing as the actual backup band for the legendary Neil Young at the Bowl in 2016 (the semi-infamous curfew-buster night) and later in a set of tour warmup shows at the Lobero.
All the while, though, Nelson has steadily evolved and deepened his band-leading resolve and impressive songbook, earning rights as an important artist in his own right. The Arlington show and tour celebrate continuing life beyond the COVID curtain and showcase A Few Stars Apart, album number six for the neo-country-rocking Promise of the Real. This “pandemic” project was recorded in mostly live, old-school style at Nashville’s storied RCA Studio A — a room where Willie worked in years past.
On a tune such as “Hand Me a Light,” a neo-classic-country track on the new album (in duet with Rina Ford), Nelson dips directly into the troughs of historical and family influence without pretension. Other strong tunes include the “hit” “Perennial Bloom (Back to You),” and the title track, a memorial tribute to a family friend.
It’s tempting to imagine Venn diagrams while analyzing Nelson’s links to music models of old, including Young’s Buffalo Springfield, various eras of Willie-dom and shades of The Band. In the wider mass-media world, Nelson wrote eight songs for the retro-music-flavored hit film A Star Is Born.
But that’s another lofty “side gig”; check out the real thing, a highly personal artistic project in motion. Lukas Nelson’s promise has, by now, been richly realized.