By Greg Cahill
“This new album is the culmination of what the band can do together, but I’ve got to say, it is and it isn’t, because it was recorded two years ago now,” says singer, songwriter, guitarist, and bandleader Lukas Nelson, when asked about the new Promise of the Real album, Something Real (Royal Potato Family). “It really is a snapshot of us two years ago, whereas now we’ve got a whole other set of stuff that we’re doing. But I have to say that this record stands the test of time. I love listening to it—it’s a great road record.
“It’s just a good rock ’n’ roll record and I’m proud of it.”
Recorded at the Westerfield House, a Victorian mansion in San Francisco, on equipment shipped from Austin, Texas, Something Real finds Nelson maturing as a songwriter, penning tender ballads and laying down hard-rocking power-blues licks.
The album is mostly originals with the exception of a cover of J.J. Cale’s “I’ll Make Love to You Anytime” and a dark rendition of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair),” written by John Phillips, of the Mamas & the Papas, and popularized in 1967 by singer Scott McKenzie at the height of the flower-power movement. That latter song features a guest vocal by Neil Young, who also gets “big thanks” for “helping with the creative process” of the record.
These days, legendary rocker Neil Young plays a major role in Nelson’s career.
In 2014, Young had invited Nelson, who was playing with his famous father, Willie Nelson, to back him at a Keystone XL pipeline protest at the Bold Nebraska Harvest concert outside of rural Neligh, Nebraska. “We became the backing band for dad and Neil and then we just never quit after that,” Lukas explains, during a visit to the Acoustic Guitar office, his Martin 000-15M in tow.
“It was so much fun, it felt good and the vibe was there. So now we’re Neil’s band and he’s our celebrated captain.”
Sure enough, Promise of the Real backed Young last year on his eco-activist album, The Monsanto Years (Warner), and, having learned 100 of Young’s songs, went on to support the album throughout Young’s 2015 summer tour.
This spring, Promise of the Real will back Young on his upcoming European tour before returning Stateside for a series of dates that bring them in the fall to the San Francisco Bay Area for Young’s all-acoustic Bridge School benefit concerts.
Lukas, 27, had first met Young as a teen while tagging along with his father at a Farm Aid benefit concert. Since then, Lukas has maintained a connection with Young: “My drummer, Anthony LoGerfo, first met me at a Neil Young concert and we decided to start the band together,” he says.
Nelson’s band, Promise of the Real, even takes its name from a line in Young’s “Walk On” (“Sooner or later, it all gets real . . . .”).
“We’ve come full circle, because eight years later we’re playing with Neil,” Nelson observes.
“It’s kind of a dream come true.”
Watch Lukas Nelson perform two songs on an episode of Acoustic Guitar Sessions, including “Georgia,” from the Something Real album, as well as the as-yet-unreleased ballad “Just Outside of Austin.”