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Son of the Red Headed Stranger: Lukas Nelson embraces his destiny

by Whitney Youngs

When listening to Lukas Nelson, you now and then think he sounds like another country singer, a Texan with long braided hair and a red bandanna across his forehead. But it’s only natural to sound a bit like Willie Nelson when he’s your father.

Lukas Nelson—like Rosanne Cash, Jakob Dylan, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the Marley brothers—followed his father into a career in music, hoping to find his own voice, outside of what he inherited and what he heard at home.

Nelson mostly grew up in the quaint town of Paia on the island of Maui with a population of less than 2,500 and relocated to Los Angeles in 2007 to attend Loyola Marymount University, where he met pianist Logan Metz. Nelson met drummer Anthony LoGerfo at a Neil Young show and often played with him, especially after dropping out of college in 2008. These three gentlemen, along with bassist Corey McCormick and percussionist Tato Melgar, comprise the Texas-based band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (POTR).

The idea of home in the physical, psychological and spiritual sense stands as a cornerstone of the quintet’s latest album, A Few Stars Apart, a collection of 11 songs released in the summer of 2021 on Fantasy Records.

“It took me a really long time to come back to the home in my heart. In a physical sense, that’s Texas and Hawaii,” says Nelson. “But in a spiritual sense as well—I think I finally decided not to run from who I am and who I am destined to be. First and foremost, that’s a songwriter. That’s what this record means to me. There’s a story being told through the whole record. A story about connection and coming home.”

Nelson hunkered down at home with his parents and younger brother during the pandemic—a strange situation for working musicians and singers whose livelihood heavily depends on touring—and with no shows to play, he wrote some songs.

“I’ve never been anywhere longer than three months, and suddenly here we are, the four of us together,” explains Nelson. “And thank god we were together. I can’t remember the last time we had that much time together as a family. We had a lot of really important bonding that happened during that time. And I have to say, as terrible as the pandemic has been in so many ways, for my inner peace, I was able to take a lot of good from this time. I was able to pause and reflect.”

POTR sounds as good as you’d expect from a group that’s acquired legitimate touring credentials over the past decade, including the occasional moonlighting as Neil Young’s road band. Recorded in Nashville, the songs of A Few Stars Apart were all written by Nelson except “Hand Me a Light,” which Nelson shares co-writing credit with Rina Ford. This song, in particular, features Nelson’s crystalline, honeyed baritone, undeniably reminiscent of his father. Produced by Dave Cobb, the songs were cut on an eight-track tape.

“...We want to have it on tape, in a physical place, not just in a digital realm but also in an analog realm. And we wanted to have it more or less live. We sat in the studio just like they did back in RCA in the day, with an eight-track tape machine,” explains Nelson. “ It’s a testament to the skill of Promise of the Real, and Dave, who actually played with us a lot, that we were able to get great takes. Everybody felt very inspired the whole time.”

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real wll perform at the BeachLife Ranch festival September 18.



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