Lucero tries so hard that sometimes it's difficult to watch. The Memphis group's last two records, Tennessee and That Much Further West, were rousing exercises in roots rock that nonetheless left listeners wondering when singer/guitarist Ben Nichols and company might finally come into their own. Nobody's Darlings is damned near that record. Guided by Replacements/Rolling Stones producer Jim Dickinson, the dozen songs ditch almost every alt-country cliche Lucero ever flirted with. Instead, the disc throws a punch that rivals Jawbreaker's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy: Coarse, bloody, naked and bleak, Nichols's lyrics sting like whiskey coming back up, and his riffs steep weary twang in haggard distortion and hooks worthy of Paul Westerberg himself. And while solidly Southern, the band isn't trying to caricature its heritage à la Kings of Leon. The shit Lucero kicks stinks for real, as bad as rotting hearts or half-digested regrets. There's no doubt about it, there was a ton of effort put into Nobody's Darlings. But at last, Lucero has turned its hard work into inspiration, not imitation.