Unassuming assassin

An inventory of this Midwesterner's circumstances would strongly suggest that he is poised to become an alt-country star. Performing and collaborating with like-minded marquee talents including Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry and members of Lucero, Austin Lucas has been keeping good punk-rock company. And punk just happens to be the soil yielding today's most invigorating folk crops.

More than any other thing, though, there's that voice. No doubt his formal training with the Indiana University Children's Choir sharpened his technique. But what makes Lucas' expression one of the brightest flares in Americana today is the authenticity it radiates. From pristine bluegrass to the soul and gospel edges of country music, his timbre runs deep with tones of tradition, every stirring inflection dripping with emotionalism.

To avoid obscuring this virtue, the songs on this album are built of unassuming proportion. The instrumentation is complete with guitars, fiddles, banjos and pedal steel, but the restrained levels are kept up just enough to provide texture and depth. Nothing dares challenge Lucas' voice, which is indisputably the linchpin.

The gestalt is a dusky Arcadian pathos that has nothing to do with honky-tonk cliché and everything to do with mining the soul. Fine moments include the lovely lullaby "Fountain of Youth" and "Precious Little Heart," a stripped-down affair that showcases his voice in its purest form. Riding noble curtseys of fiddle and pedal steel, "Shoulders" is country grace par excellence.

Nailing the elusive margin where humble and powerful overlap, Lucas spins modesty into majesty on Somebody Loves You. As a shining nexus where stylistic purity and an alternative ethos meet, this young gun is the best of both worlds.

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