Release Date: Mar 4, 2014
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Hard Rock, Alternative Country-Rock, Southern Rock
In the 15-plus years of perfecting their unique brand of somewhere-between-REM-and-Lynyrd-Skynryd urban-hillbilly-alterna-rock, Drive-By Truckers have never made an album that sounds as good as English Oceans. The geetars are as crisp as 100-dollar bills, vocals more in-your- face than a protester at the height of a rally; it’s a resounding success, at least from an artistic standpoint. The new album came together quickly, apparently, with dual singers/tunesmiths Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley sharing writing chores equally.
Life is always messy on Drive-By Truckers albums, populated by the endless cast of assorted lowlifes and down-and-outs that spring from the minds of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. On English Oceans, the songwriters fill their songs with evocative tales of dying ambitions, interpersonal discord, suffocating shame and in an astute pair of politically edged tunes, turn their sights to the cloying misdirection that dirty tricksters use to pave over all that familiar suffering. What distinguishes the Truckers’ 12th album from the rest of their excellent recent pack is two-fold: 1) The band came out firing hot, the batch of lean rock songs presented in their visceral, unadorned rawness, and 2) More than ever before, this is a Cooley album, with six of his compositions shaping the overall tone of the record.
Though never far from the spit and spirit of their most recent releases Go-Go Boots and The Big To-Do, the Truckers themselves claim English Oceans owes more to their fiery 1999 live set Alabama Ass Whuppin’. Recorded in an economical two weeks with long-time producer David Barbe, there’s an added ferocity to the band’s signature pocket portraits of southern life. Case in point is the Pauline Hawkins, an atmospheric song inspired by a downtrodden character in a novel by author Willy Vlautin, which paints an evocative scenario of small-town struggle.
English Oceans isn’t the Drive-By Truckers’ best album; it’s their only album. The Georgia-based band staked out a niche early in their careers, and 18 years later, they’re still standing that same ornery, tremulous ground. There’s something to be said about creative stagnation. Any single track from this newest album could’ve been slotted into any of their previous nine albums.
For years, Mike Cooley has been the George Harrison of the Drive-By Truckers, the guy who contributed two or three fine songs to each DBTs album while frontman Patterson Hood penned the bulk of the band's repertoire. That changes with English Oceans, the band's tenth studio album, where Cooley gets co-star status for a change -- he penned six of the album's 13 tunes, and sings lead on Hood's "Til He's Dead or Rises. " By accident or design, the increased presence of Cooley's songs gives English Oceans a feel of call and response, as Cooley's smart but plainspoken style faces off against Hood's more artful approach as they both spin tales of characters struggling to make sense of the world around them.
Athens, Georgia's Drive-By Truckers call their 12th album a return to basics, though it's not like they'd started making orchestral concept albums about fish anyway. In fact, English Oceans is full of their familiar southern rock: soul and brass occasionally adorn storytelling songs which attempt to right wrongs and champion the worker against The Man. However, sharing singer-songwriting duties equally between founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley for the first time has brought out the best in both.
It's all too easy to take Drive-By Truckers for granted. While fickle media and radio keep looking for newer acts to fawn over, Athens' finest just keep on cranking out albums at a prolific pace matched by few. English Oceans, their 12th album in 17 years, confirms they've lost little of their potency, despite major personnel changes over the past decade.There's less of the full-on shit-kicking guitar and vocal splendour of the seminal DBT lineup (the one featuring the now-departed Jason Isbell and Shonna Tucker), and this will rank as one of their most mellow releases.
Drive-By Truckers have always been Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley’s band. Even with three albums under the belt with Jason Isbell as the band’s third songwriter, and subsequent trio of records with Shonna Tucker in that role, the band always seemed to belong to Hood and Cooley. So it’s no surprise that English Oceans, the band’s first album since the departure of Tucker, feels a lot leaner than the group’s last few records.
Drive-By Truckers don’t owe us shit. They’ve never made a bad or even a mediocre album in their two decades, even though they’ve given themselves many opportunities to do so. And considering their occasionally acrimonious lineup changes and bold conceptual gambits, they’d have many valid excuses if that fate were to come to pass. But depending on your affinity for 2008’s generous-to-a-fault Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, it’s either been six years or 10 since their last truly great album.
Drive-By Truckers think about their albums. Sure, any musician does that, but it still bears repeating: Drive-By Truckers think about their albums. Just look at Patterson Hood’s liner notes. Even misfires like A Blessing and a Curse (which is still pretty good) have a vision behind them. It might ….
It shouldn't come as a surprise to longtime Drive-By Truckers fans that the Athens, Ga.-based band's 10th album sees another lineup change. However, the outcome remains the same. Patterson Hood evenly splits songwriting duties with Mike Cooley and the result is a mixed bag of muscular rockers ("Shit Shots Count") and cinematic, brooding ballads ("Pauline Hawkins"), proving that a little teamwork goes a long way.
Drive-By TruckersEnglish Oceans(ATO)3.5 out of 5 stars With longtime members Shonna Tucker and John Neff out of the lineup, the Drive-By Truckers scale back and lurch forward on their twelfth album. English Oceans is a meat-and-potatoes rock and roll record, rawer and rougher than anything since Alabama Ass Whuppin’, and its leanness highlights the band’s strengths while amplifying a few lingering weaknesses. Co-frontman Patterson Hood knocks it out of the park with “Grand Canyon,” a panoramic power ballad about the romance of the road, but whiffs on the sludgy “When He’s Gone,” which paints the picture of a tired, loveless marriage with familiar colors and lazy brushstrokes.
The ringer on this stripped-down rock set is guitarist Mike Cooley. Instead of his standard two to four tunes per album, Cooley wrote six out of 13 here – and batted 1.000, moving successfully from bashed-out pop ("Shit Shots Count") to bar-Byrds heartbreakers ("Primer Coat") and honky-tonk piano blues ("Natural Light") that can barely keep on its stool. Much respect, of course, to frontman Patterson Hood, who cranks out his usual smart set of rockers as consistent as Waffle House hash browns.
Over the past fifteen years Athens, Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers have been one of the most regularly impressive alt. country acts around, delivering a steady steam of very good-to-great releases every other year – with 2006’s ’A Blessing and a Curse’ being the only notable dip in quality. New album ’English Oceans’, their tenth studio album, is a return to their roots; a leaner, more focused, take on their country infused rock ’n’ roll.Led by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, Drive-By Truckers has seen a steady revolving group of musicians join and leave the band over the past fifteen years, the only other constant being drummer Brad Morgan.
Calling Drive-By Truckers ‘critically acclaimed’ is like calling Avatar ‘successful’. They have an unbroken string of seven four-and-a-half-star records on Allmusic. They haven’t had a single album receive less than glowing praise. Their papa’s-moonshine concoction of rowdy southern-fried rock, boozy country and, lately, soul, has led some, particularly American, music fans to claim they’re this generation’s Lynyrd Skynyrd or Allman Brothers.
Let us now sing the praises of Mike Cooley. Although the Drive-By Truckers are blessed with a dual songwriting force between Cooley and Patterson Hood, and doubly blessed by their dueling guitars that anchor epic, alcohol-fueled live shows, Cooley can sometimes seem to be Hood’s foil; that was true, too, when the band included additional songwriters in Jason Isbell and / or Shonna Tucker. Hood plays the role of the band’s spokesperson, the one who articulates its vision of southern rock.
Comings and goings aren't anything new to Drive-By Truckers – the acrimonious 2007 exit of singer/songwriter Jason Isbell is just the most dramatic example of its ongoing lineup carousel. But even so, the last few years have been especially tough. In December 2011, bassist and songwriter Shonna Tucker, an anchor of the group's sound for the last eight years, said goodbye.
By now, Drive-By Truckers have gotten used to losing songwriters. While the core of the neo-Southern-rockers has always been frontman Patterson Hood and guitarist-singer Mike Cooley, over the years the band has seen gifted colleagues Jason Isbell and Shonna Tucker come and leave the fold. "English Oceans," the band's 12th LP, is the first to present Hood and Cooley as equal vocal and songwriting partners, and the results are muscular and more experimental than you might expect.
Three years off don’t mean shit to the Drive-By Truckers. There’ve been line-up changes (bye-bye, Shonna – we’ll miss your token ballads), solo records from co-frontmen Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, and relentless touring – it may not be Robert Pollard levels of prolific, but it’s as good as you’re gonna get from beer-for-breakfast types like these. Still, it’s the first record back after a pretty hefty two-album punch – the soul-inflected Go-Go Boots and the charging career highlight The Big To-Do - and there seems to be a lot at stake for their don’t-call-it-a-comeback, even if they’ve never exactly been the coolest band on the block.
Lea Michele“Louder”(Columbia Records)2 Stars The title of Lea Michele’s first solo album, “Louder,” doubles as a warning. If you thought she was loud before, gird yourself. In order to listen without suffering permanent damage, you’ll need earplugs, a safety harness and, for all I know, a hazmat suit. “Louder” is one long diva fit posing as a performance.