Lukas Nelson has a work ethic that’d make even his prolific father, Willie, blush. Along with his band, Promise of the Real, Nelson, 28, has spent the last two years recording and touring with Neil Young, releasing 2016’s Something Real, and performing on this year’s Outlaw Music Festival tour alongside greats like Bob Dylan and his dad. It’s surprising that Promise of the Real is putting out another album so soon — and that it’s probably the band’s best work, to boot.
“This record, more than any record, really captures who we are as a band,” Nelson says of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, which EW is excited to premiere below. “There’s a little more emotional weight to the songs and even to the quality of the recording. It’s more cinematic.”
For the sessions, Nelson added a steel guitarist and pianist to the mix to achieve a fuller sound. (In an interview with EW earlier this year, he described it as a transition from “cowboy-hippie-surf-rock at its peak” to “country soul.”) He also recruited a female vocalist for two songs: Lady Gaga.
“She’s really incredible at everything she does,” Nelson says when speaking about Gaga, who rounds out album highlights “Carolina” and “Find Yourself” with typical verve. “She has an amazing versatility and is just a good friend. She can really do anything. I think she’s a true artist in every sense of the word.”
But setting aside Gaga’s assists, the record is a huge leap forward for Nelson, whose improved songwriting prowess is evident on songs like “Runnin’ Shine,” a stripped-down tale about a family of moonshiners. Nelson says he was inspired to write the tune after a conversation he had with Josh Owens, whose story was told on Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners.
“I read about moonshining a little bit and I wrote this story about this guy who’s carrying on his family business,” Nelson explains. “I felt like I could relate to that. I felt like a lot of people could, too — because whether it’s running moonshine or playing music like my dad used to or carrying on with the family tradition even though the tradition might be controversial in some way, it’s about doing what you do and being true to yourself.”
The album also includes some of Promise of the Real’s tightest jams yet, which Nelson credits to touring with Young. “We go to different places when we improvise, even more than we did before,” he says. “We’re better at tuning in to the certain place where you go when you lose yourself in the music.”
Hear Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real above and visit the band’s site for more information about the album and upcoming tour dates.