Kinda blue and cooking, X man Steve Lucas pushes his own boundaries
Cross That Line – Steve Lucas and The Rising Tide (Aztec Music)
Steve Lucas, last man standing from Australia's mighty underground legends X who, back in the day, I expect would have thought of themselves as a powerful rock band. Live, no-one would want to follow them ... and like The Saints and even Radio Birdman, they got called "punk" anyway. Pigeon-holing is for pigeons and gugs. I'd love to have been able to see X and Rose Tattoo in the same week.
Like many veterans of the music industry, Lucas has an unavoidable musical legacy. Which I expect can be both a blessing and a curse. So, for those expecting X Mark 32 and won't take no for an answer ... "Cross That Line" ain't for you. I always thought 'punk' was a state of mind about expressing the individual, not everyone wearing the same uniform and going to the same gigs. My approval or t'otherwise of any record is irrelevant, no matter what the genre. Remember, I'm a big fan of (among others) Gzutt, Peg Leg Sam, Thelonious Monk and Jon Wayne.
"Cross That Line" is Lucas stepping away from one niche ... and not so much finding another to tinker with as discovering a whole palette of expression. Maybe a couple of these songs might be surgically altered to fit X. But I doubt it.
"The Bomp-a-Bomp Song" reveals Lucas exploring this new (to him) world. So damn groovy and, as The Barman (see below) wrote earlier, the band swings and rocks. Two seconds of "Moths to a Flame" makes you realise that this is a damn fine, finely crafted record stuffed with musicians of high talent and which,
if there was any justice (and we know that's an illusion at best), "Cross That Line" would be number-eight with a bullet on the charts - and with a speck of industry support would've been splattered all over the radio not 20 years ago. We're talking serious cross-over, well-crafted blues-pop - with overtones not far from bands like The Rolling Stones, who (you may have noticed) long ago merged their r'n'b with soul, country and grand bedazzle. The Stones don't chart much but they still fill stadia.
"This Mother's Son" has Lucas producing some gorgeous, refractive guitar; you're not accustomed to this. The title track leads in with guitar to ... a vocal that sounds like he's at the dentist and the drill is coming down for the third or fourth time, and the anaesthetic hasn't kicked in yet.
But then Lucas has always been the kind of vocalist who should be making audiences cheer and weep on shit-shows like "The Voice", FFS, not those nicey-nicey-nice-nice plastic and crimplene monotremes. "Dare to be Different" is a total about-face, with Lucas unzipping his innermost ... with vast, gut-bucket-tearing shouts.
There's a lot going on behind him, too; Bruce Haymes's piano is magnificent, and the horns (Chris Vizard on trombone, Travis Woods on trumpet and Jon Hunt on sax) raise the level significantly to the sort of thing which lifts hearts, chariots and roller coasters. Don't let me forget Dave Hogan's blues harp, either.
"Cross That Line" also takes us into dead-groovy territory (Lucas' hair is coincidental) which means the band swings as well as rocks. No mean feat this, I might add. I'm sure you can think of dozens of outfits whose songs were damn good but the actual recording, or production, or some damn thing blew it all to hell. No, "Cross That Line" ticks all your tickle boxes.
While this is not the sort of thing I usually listen to, bear in mind that first, you know, reviewers are idiots. For example, I'm not all that fond of Nirvana, and while I appreciate a song like "White Rabbit" I don't enjoy it. "Cross That Line" is one of those modern pop classics which most of you will dig. Don't let it get away. - Robert Brokenmouth
The global lockdowns were responsible for la deluge of music – good, bad and indifferent. There was something about being cooped up that frustrated anyone with an artistic bone in their body. It prompted Steve Lucas to do a long run of streamed shows from his Melbourne home, and it birthed the idea for “Cross That Line”, which was committed to hard drive in a studio as soon as restrictions lifted.
Lucas is best-known for his role as frontman for X, the punk rock and roll vehicle for him, the late Ian Rilen, Steve Cafeiro and Ian Krahe as well as a long line of subsequent bandmates. As sole surviving original member, Lucas still revels in the occasional X show. This solo album sounds nothing remotely like that.
As the man himself explains:
It's me going back to the kinds of music I was most likely conceived to. Swing-based blues, with jazzy overtones. Country-style music. I have flirted with the blues on and off all through the years. On just about every solo album I give a nod towards the genre.
The album is based on the chemistry that exists between double bass, brushes, and piano - and my Resonator or archtop Cromwell. For me, (it’s) a remarkable effort in restraint! There's even a bit of blues harp on a couple of the tracks.
If X is your only point of reference, you might be bemused, but acoustic shows are very much a Lucas stock-in-trade, and the blues is never far away. If you think he’s milking a hackneyed genre, you’ll also be surprised. “Cross That Line” sounds fresh and vital; it employs horns, harp and that distinctive Lucas vocal to superb effect.
There’s a big whiff here of the whimsically psychedelic Lucas band Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence from the early 2000’s when he was domiciled in Sydney. The Puberts and their “A Once And Future Thing” album celebrated Kinks-meets-freakbeat pop in the same way “Cross That Line” nods to pre-WWI backwoods blues. There’s also a hint of the short-lived Lucas project A.R.M. – at least in some of the arrangements.
The common thread throughout all those bands is Steve’s voice and it’s in fine form on “Cross That Line”. He still has a great range and a charred timbre that suits these songs. If you’re looking for a better known reference point, try John Mayall’s “The Turning Point” with a major injection of brash humour.
The album works because the band swings. Steve is accompanied by Peter Mavric on-double bass, Bruce Haymes on piano and Peter Robertson on brushes. The collective cooks. The songs are all original and four are supplemented by Chris Vizard (trombone), Travis Woods (trumpet) and Jon Hunt (saxophone). Dave Hogan adds blues harp and Joey Bedlam (that’s Mrs Lucas to you) of DollSquad brings her vocal to duet on the playful “Joshua Tree”.
The songs are great and the arrangements thoughtful. The brass section comes into its own on “Congratulations” while Lucas at least channels the spirit of Stevie Marriott circa Small Faces on “How Can I Sing The Blues?” The upright bass on “The Rising Tide” will sweep you up and walk you out the door.
Unabashed fun and much recommended. It's on LP and digital, with a CD edition about to land. - The Barman