“Alcohallelujah” sounds like the slogan of a brewer’s dreams. Dress that baby in a t-shirt or koozie and reap the sales rewards. For Lukas Nelson, the clever combination of booking weekend events is a breakthrough in the genre of songwriting that country music didn’t invent but certainly perfected: the drinking song.
Except the 34-year-old son of all-around legend Willie Nelson can’t stomach enough to approve of a tune that promotes entertainment filled with destruction as well as good times. “I didn’t want to make a huge alcohol song,” he says in a phone interview from Nashville, where he was taping the Country Music Association’s tribute to the deceased. John Prine.
So Nelson took yet another aspect of his birthright in outlaw country and created an “anti-anthem” for his band’s eighth studio album, “Sticks and Stones,” that rocks like a tailgate party while telling the story of the booze that shattered one man’s life.
Born from his “little bubble” with his family at home in Texas during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the result of that insularity, 2021’s elegant “A Few Stars Apart” Nelson and his workhorse band Promise of the Real had a crowd salivating in celebration. To meet your demands, these 12 quick hit tracks were released with insane dedication.
The album’s title track pairs the swamp rhythm of Nelson’s crooning guitar licks with Logan Metz’s Wild West saloon keyboards, while “More Than Friends,” a crackling duet with CMA Award Entertainer of the Year Lainey Wilson, brims with seismic chemistry. “Wrong House” offers an invitation from the fiery rhythm section (percussionist Tato Melgar, drummer Anthony Logerfo and bassist Corey McCormick) to “make it” until you drop; while the bedroom ballad “Lying” showcases Nelson’s smooth vocal range.
He recalls getting back into the rhythm of playing crowded venues: “People really wanted to dance and have fun, and at that time I lacked the material to keep the audience up.” “I’ve noticed for the last year and a half that people have been sitting at home listening to introverted songs and wanting to party.”
This diligence in charting the emotional beats of a set list, combined with his shaggy charisma, prompted Bradley Cooper to use Nelson as the inspiration for the character Jackson Maine in 2018’s remake of the Oscar-winning “A Star is.” Born” but will also hire him as the film’s musical consultant and use Promise of the Real as his on-screen backing band. Cooper first saw Nelson on tour with Neil Young during POTR’s four-year run; was the iconoclast’s handpicked choice to accompany him both in the studio and on stage across the country.
Balancing high-profile collaborations with a relentless touring schedule (this latest jaunt brings POTR to Joe’s Live in Rosemont on Dec. 5) is part of the role Nelson cherishes most as his father’s main guitar slinger. Whether it’s casual music streaming at home, hosting surprise guests like Bob Dylan at Farm Aid, or a star-studded event at the Hollywood Bowl to celebrate Willie’s 90th birthday that CBS will air on December 17, Nelson considers every opportunity with his father “an opportunity.” Private Thought.”
“Being able to play with him is the greatest joy of my life,” Nelson says. It’s a partnership that dates back to Willie being so impressed by the first song Lukas wrote, “You Were It,” that it appeared on the elder Nelson’s 2004 album “It Always Will Be.”
It’s not lost on Nelson that the amount he misses his father when they’re apart is probably equal to Willie’s own struggle juggling his hectic life on the road with the demanding strife of his family, who dutifully await his return.
“The roles are almost reversed and now I’m gone and I have a responsibility and a duty to play music and I’m doing my best to come home and I think he understands,” Nelson says. “I can feel you know the show has to go on, but it’s such a bittersweet thing.”
Unlike other sons of highly influential artists who followed their fathers into the music business, Nelson seems comfortable embracing his lineage, Nepo said of the privileges afforded to babies.
“I don’t run away from it,” he admits. “I’m not after him. This is the case in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. I never felt like I had to separate myself. I felt like I had to work twice as hard at my craft to separate what I was doing from what he was doing. I’ve made a very conscious effort to create my own art form so that I can pay homage to him when I feel like I have to, but also have something that is completely mine.
Nelson knows that the opportunities that come with dropping a famous surname are small gifts; If one has the work ethic to match it, however, having a hard-earned roadmap born of his father’s sometimes very public missteps is far more valuable. When asked what mistakes Willie would like to avoid, Nelson remains elusive: “I mean, getting married.” (Willie’s wedding number is four.)
“There are some things I don’t want to do over and over again,” he explains. “I’ll make my own mistakes, but I don’t want to make his mistakes.”
Janine Schaults is a freelance writer.
Lukas Nelson + POTR December 5 at 7:45pm at Joe’s Live, 5441 Park Place, Rosemont; tickets $30 joesliverosemont.com