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Austin LucasAustin Lucas
Album: Between The Moon And The Midwest
Label: At The Helm
Tracks: 10

The bolder type bands and artistes always like to explore new horizons, move into unknown territory to avoid the risk of musical ruts and, I guess, Austin Lucas is no different.

On Between The Moon and The Midwest he's moved into a stirring, country vibe with add-on rocky, hoe-down tones while losing none of the intimacy, open-heartedness and upset prevalent on previous outings such as the widely praised Stay Reckless from five years back.

This time round he has songs that were honed originally through a period of darkness and have emerged as a dynamic collection of the Haggard kind but with more cosmic (if you like) treatments and atmospheric duets. Lydia Loveless is involved amidst chiming guitars and flowing pedal steel such as on the impressive, Next To You, which also captures a kind of desperation that reminded me of another concept album, The High Country by the incomparable Richmond Fontaine.

Opener, Unbroken Hearts is terrific, a hearty full-on country belter that starts all woozy, flashing up images of lava lamps, and also brings Sturgill Simpson to mind. And that happens again on the equally dynamic, Wrong Side of the Dream, with its shuffling beat and lyrics with Loveless. It relates to how the singer is some distance away, or maybe just distant, but gives his woman permission not to be on her own. As Lucas readily admits: "It's hard to love someone who is always gone.."

Ain't Wee Free is a gutsy, racy, toe-tapping country gem while Pray For Rain changes the pace with real grace. It is a delightful, plaintiff, piano-led country ballad, with glorious pedal steel piling in again as the sing progresses.

Meanwhile, The Flame offers up a delectable rock n' roll, country toe-tapping vibe that highlights Lucas' influences such as George Jones. Its ragged T.Rex-like riffing start leads into a jaunty, rip-along treat performed with gusto as Lucas asks: "Are you in a strangers arms / or worse someone I know?" Classic country agony aunt stuff there.

Rounding things off is Midnight, all solid and dreamy as the pedal steel, once again, underpins perfectly a big song about doubt and faith. As well as Loveless, John Moreland and Cory Branan make appearances in this 10-track cracker that demonstrates Lucas combining country with shades of other genres with a talent to be true to them all. Any of his remaining pain or darkness should ease with the knowledge that this collection will please a whole lot of folk.

Mike Ritchie