Lukas Nelson has been releasing music and touring for nearly 10 years now. But he is treating the recently released self-titled album from his band, “Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real,” as if it’s a second beginning to his music career.
There’s plenty of logic to that thinking. The past few years have seen the band’s profile expand considerably, mainly through two notable collaborations.
After seeing Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real perform at Farm Aid in 2010, rock legend Neil Young befriended the group, and a few years later drafted them to be his backing band on “The Monsanto Years,” his 2015 album that blasted the use of genetically modified foods. The group also backed Young on his tour for the album.
“I think that Neil and the band all come from the same musical places, and it kind of stands to reason that we’d somehow end up playing together since we were in the same circle,” Nelson said, offering his take during a recent phone interview on why the partnership with Young has worked so well.
Young’s 2016 live album, “Earth,” was drawn from the 2015 “The Monsanto Years” tour, and Young and the group then resumed their collaboration on Young’s 2017 studio release, “The Visitor.” The group also contributed to the soundtrack of the film “Paradox,” starring Young. Lukas and his brother, Micah, appeared in leading roles alongside Young in the movie, which was released last spring.
“The Visitor” arrived alongside a fall 2017 album that united Lukas and Micah with their father, country legend Willie Nelson — “Willie Nelson and the Boys: Willie’s Stash Vol. 2,” an album where the three Nelsons perform a selection of favorite country songs.
And as if that wasn’t enough, fall 2017 also saw the release of the “Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real,” the group’s first album as part of a new contract with the semimajor label, Fantasy Records.
Nelson, 30, knew the attention generated by the projects with Young and his father, coupled with the new record deal, meant a far larger audience had become aware of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. So the self-titled album would introduce the band to a lot of potential new fans and serve as the start of a new phase in the group’s career.
To that end, Nelson not only chose the best songs from a large pool of newly written tunes but also cut new versions of several tunes that had appeared on earlier albums, including such standouts as “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” “Forget About Georgia” and “Four Letter Word.” He also wanted the new album to have a more varied and cinematic sound that the first three albums.
“I just wanted it to be a lights-out record, something that really got a lot of attention for us, something that was accessible to a wide audience and that a lot of people would love,” Nelson said.
The opening track on the self-titled album, “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” is even more beautiful and spacious than the original version and also gets a previously absent measure of gospel, thanks to the backing vocals of Jess Wolfe and Holly Lessig of the duo Lucius.
The songs “Die Alone” and “Four Letter Word” recall the chunky country rock and soul of J.J. Cale and early Eric Clapton, while the group’s country roots shine on the ballads “Just Outside of Austin” and “Runnin’ Shine.” Funk, blues, country and rock filter into the proceedings on the sprightly “Fool Me Once” and on “Find Yourself,” which features sassy guest vocal from none other than Lady Gaga.
Nelson met Lady Gaga during work on the acclaimed remake of the 1976 version of “A Star is Born,” which finds Gaga taking on the role played by Barbra Streisand and Bradley Cooper in the role of the hard-living rocker played by Kris Kristofferson.
Nelson was extensively involved in the film, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won the Oscar for best original song (“Shallow.”).
“There are a lot of great songs on there and most of the music is played by the band and produced by me and Lady Gaga and the band and Bradley,” Nelson said, referring to the soundtrack album. “I wrote a lot of songs for the movie with her and on my own. You know, I think it’s a really special thing to be able to be a part of such a fun project.”
With “A Star Is Born” having given them another burst of exposure, Nelson and his band — Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass, vocals), Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars, Farfisa organ, vocals) and Alberto Bof (keyboards) — plan to spend a good deal of time touring.
So what can concert-goers expect?
“We like to just make sure it’s a high-energy show,” he said. “So we do a lot of the new record and ... the new material, ... and then toward the end, we’ll throw in some real rockers from ‘Something Real’ (or the other albums) ... because there are a lot of fans that we have that love our old material, and we don’t quit playing that.”