Scott Lucas (right above), to my surprise, is talking about Tom Jones. With more than a little awe.
"Have you heard that new Tom Jones record?" he asks, hopeful, brows raised. "You can see some of what we're talking about in this record. You can see an artist, even at his level, trying to propel himself in a new direction. I saw him on Letterman, doing that Black Keys kinda thing -- with a two-piece!"
What we're talking about: the motivation behind the new Local H album, "Local H's Awesome Mix Tape No. 1" (out on Tuesday), a set of covers. Jones' new album, too, is a rootsy set of spiritual covers, one of which (John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell") he performed on "Late Night With David Letterman" late in September backed only by a wicked guitarist and a drummer. For 15 years, Local H has been a stalwart fixture of Chicago's bar scene, a two-piece featuring Lucas at the mike and on guitar, paired with drummer Brian St. Clair.
And after all those years writing and performing some truly inspired rock gems (one hit, "Bound for the Floor" in 1996, other greats like "California Songs" and "All the Kids Are All Right," 2008's brilliant breakup album "12 Angry Months"), why did the two succumb to the covers-album cliché?
9 p.m. Saturday
Cubby Bear North, 21661 N. Milwaukee in Lincolnshire
Tickets: $10 advance, $12 on Saturday
(847) 541-4700, cubbynorth.com
"It's a way to collect songs that have been lying around, that we've been toying with at shows -- to clear the decks a little," Lucas says. Later he confesses, "Lyric writing, as I've gotten older, has gotten harder. ... Sometimes it's hard to find the open spaces we haven't filled in yet."
"Mix Tape" finds Local H rocking TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" ("the best rock song of the last 10 years," so says Lucas), Concrete Blonde's "Joey" ("the best alcoholic love song ever"), Jesus Lizard's "Puss," even Pink Floyd's "Time" ("an endurance test -- for the listener," Lucas admits). Local H attracted some attention five years ago with a grungy cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic." "I'd still like to do an MGMT song. Maybe that'll be on 'Awesome Mix Tape No. 2. I've always wanted to do Pulp's 'Common People,' too." (Has Local H been covered? At least once: Palmdale did "Bound for the Floor.")
This set must have cleared the decks, after all, because Lucas says Local H is already writing a new album. "We're 10 songs in," he reports. Some of them were trotted out at a recent Beat Kitchen show.
But that's just one of his new projects we're discussing.
The other is, well, more covers. Lucas' new side project, a six-piece Americana band dubbed Scott Lucas & the Married Men, also has a fresh recording out. It's an EP, "Absolute Beginners" (also out Tuesday), with just four songs: a loping, fiddle-filled take on the David Bowie title track, plus two fleshed-out versions of songs from the first Married Men CD ("Crosshairs" and "Last One" from "George Lassos the Moon," out early this year) and, hmm, a "cover" of a Local H song ("Hey Rita").
The Married Men fill in one open space Local H has thus far avoided. While that duo bashes through smart, sardonic takes on life and love, the Married Men were born out of a set of ardent, just-shy-of-sentimental songs Lucas wrote, recorded and emailed to a woman he was wooing. (They worked. He's not an actual married man, but they're still dating.)
"The Married Men are like the flip-side of '12 Angry Months,'" he says. "Instead of breaking up, this is romantic. 'Absolute Beginners' is about as romantic as it gets. ... They were personal. I had to stand by them on my own. They couldn't be a Local H record. It became this thing. I wanted traditional instruments. I wanted it spare, stripped down. There's no reason to do a solo record unless it sounds completely different."
There's a new Married Men album in the works, too. "We're six songs in," Lucas reports. "I'm feeling good now creatively. The floodgates are open, and I'm just trying to ride the wave."