How lucky is it that one of alt-country’s last true practitioners should also be one of its best? Drive-By Truckers – with its oft-celebrated Southern Gothic vignettes and backing instrumentation that blasts forth with the force of a sawed-off shotgun – creates a brand of rock n’ roll for folks who grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers but now read Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote. For those who missed the previous seven full-length albums, including the magnum opus Southern Rock Opera, this could be the record to finally draw you in. For longtime followers, however, The Big To-Do is a smaller slice of the same cornbread, which would be a problem if it weren’t so good.
What would these Southern rockers write about if ?everyone were rich and happy? Fortunately — at least for Drive-By Trucker’s creative juices — there’s been no shortage of woe in the world of late, and The Big To-Do features some of the band’s most evocative chunks of misery-?detailing to date. These include spousal homicide saga ”The Wig He Made Her Wear” and the desperate “This F—ing Job.” A? Download These:Country-rock heartbreakers Santa Feand Eyes Like Glue at last.fm See all of this week’s reviews .
In his liner notes to the Drive-By Truckers' eighth studio album, The Big To-Do, bandleader Patterson Hood uses running away to join the circus as a metaphor for a variety of hopes, dreams, and ambitions, adding "I never really was all that into the circus as a kid, but I sure was into the Rock Show, which was sort of The Circus for kids of my generation. " There's plenty of truth to that line, but while running off to chase the Big Top usually means escaping the realities of adult responsibility, Hood and his bandmates have become all the more willing to deal with the home truths of just getting by as they've become more successful, and The Big To-Do may be their most intense look yet into the messy realities of life in post-millennial America. In The Big To-Do, the Truckers sing about people trying to make sense of a world that's seemingly turned against them -- a young boy whose father has abandoned the family ("Daddy Learned to Fly"), a man who has lost a bad job and is struggling to support his family ("This Fucking Job"), a wife confronting her unfaithful husband ("You Got Another"), an alcoholic who can barely remember the wreckage he's left behind ("The Fourth Night of My Drinking"), and a father trying to figure out what lessons he can pass along to his children ("Eyes Like Glue").
The good news for Drive-By Truckers fans is that their new album The Big To-Do rarely strays from what the band does best. The bad news is the band’s lyrics are taking on a far greater resonance for millions who have lost their jobs and homes in the Great Recession. Drive-By Truckers have always been able to blend bar-raising, no-nonsense rocking with vivid character sketches.
Blue-collar bards tell an epic tale The last hot-barbecue platter from these Athens, Ga.-based workaholics, 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, was a characteristically stomping monster, 19 tracks of roaring awesomeness that felt like a pretty deliberate screw-off to supporters of the Judiciously Edited Album. This quick-to-arrive follow-up whittles things down to more manageable levels, but still swings big. Once again, the Truckers conjure up satisfying and cinematic songs with the greatest of ease, from a reservoir-town murder (“Drag The Lake Charlie”) to thoughtful strippers (“Birthday Boy”) and self-approved self-destruction (“The Fourth Night of My Drinking”).
On their first two albums (1998's Gangstabilly and 1999's Pizza Deliverance), the Drive-By Truckers were supreme redneck jokesters, specializing in scabrous white-trash vignettes owing more to Southern Gothic fiction (Flannery O'Connor, Barry Hannah) than any sub-Mason-Dixon stand-up hacks. As the band matured and its de facto frontman Patterson Hood started writing songs that were weightier and more universal in sentiment, however, its more darkly off-kilter early work came to be generally viewed as juvenilia, the dicking around these guys did before they grew up into real artists. That would be a mistake, because songs like "18 Wheels of Love", "Bulldozers and Dirt", and "Zoloft" were wickedly clever and deeply revealing slices of Southern life that hold relatable truths for all listeners regardless of region.
Beloved by hicks and hipsters alike, and strong candidates for the title of Best Rock Band in America, Georgia's Drive-By Truckers have done pretty well for themselves since Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley launched the project back in 1996. But critical plaudits and festival billings haven't done a damn thing to erode the band's blue-collar spirit. Right in the middle of The Big To-Do comes a duo of songs wherein Hood and Cooley use good humor and better guitar riffs to relate the frustrations of unlucky folks trapped in dead-end jobs and the even less lucky folks who can't even manage that.
If you haven’t heard the still eminently cultish Drive-By Truckers, as their eighth full-length album looms into view, you might be forgiven for thinking that they’re some sort of comedy redneck band, a touring partner for Hayseed Dixie or some such awfulness. Thankfully, those that have heard the Truckers will know that they’re nothing of the sort. More of a Southern cousin to The Hold Steady or a more straight-laced My Morning Jacket, the Athens, Georgia group deal in heavy, long-brewed rock, laced with Crazy Horse-style riffs and weighty lyrics rich in musical mythology.
For 12 years and nine albums now, these Alabama-born, Georgia-based southern rockers have been putting storytelling to the fore, often focusing on the history and mythology of the southern states – they even once made a concept album about Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Big To-Do is a similarly narrative-heavy record, its three-guitar alt-country swell propping up a cast of variously true-life and fictional characters and the (mostly) bad things they do, or have done to them. Herein we hear of inveterate drinkers, bodies in lakes, put-upon prostitutes, gasps in the courtroom and dead-end jobs; these are tales skilfully, if traditionally, told, and the fact of Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Shonna Tucker taking turns on lead vocals adds greatly to that sense of multiple narrative voices.
The Drive-By Truckers sure are a prolific bunch. The Big To-Do is the Georgians' 10th since arriving on the scene in 1998. There have been concept albums and more concept albums, and their last epic, 2008's Brighter Than Creation's Dark, sprawled for more than 75 minutes. The Big To-Do opens with four blasts of Crazy Horse-inspired howl before settling in to the meat of things, where the proceedings get a little weird.
One of the hardest-rocking acts operating south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Chris Lo 2010 Formed in Athens, Georgia in 1996, Drive-By Truckers have spent the last 14 years introducing the ramshackle, distorted aesthetic of 90s grunge to a vintage Southern rock template. Like a cross between Pearl Jam and Creedence, the band have consistently avoided sinking into the anonymous jam-band swamp with tight songcraft and appealingly lurid storytelling, passionately delivered by principal songwriters Patterson Hood, Shonna Tucker and Mike Cooley.