21 February 2008

The Man's On the Guest List

Drive-By Truckers
Brighter Than Creation's Dark

New West Records, 2008

Before purchasing the latest Drive-By Truckers album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, I consulted the guru of all things mud, blood, and beer: “So, brother o’ mine, should I pay American greenbacks for a physical copy of one Drive-By Truckers CD? Or should I download it (legally, of course) and enjoy it without the restrictive mp3 format?"

“Oh,” he says to me, “you should definitely get it. But I must warn you, it’s a country album. It’s no The Dirty South.”

I laugh heartily, suddenly aware that I do not own ANY physical DBT CDs—all that I have has been ripped from said brother.
“And,” he continues, “there’s this weird song in the middle that sounds like a John Prine ripoff.”

The song he is referring to is “Bob,” a Mike Cooley composition that, at the moment, is one of my favorite songs on the album. It does sound like a John Prine ripoff, but the character of Bob is an endearing one: he’s not “light in the loafers” and he always keeps his momma’s yard “just like she wants it.” Still, it’s not the low-key country-tinged sound that might have turned me off from BTCD, but rather the hole in the band that should have occurred with the departure of Jason Isbell, one of the three genius songwriters behind the band for nine years.

The band fills up the space with songs by Shonna Tucker (Isbell’s ex-wife and DBT bassist). For the most part, they’re passable and keep the album moving (“I’m Sorry Huston” is the best of the lot). But at 19 songs and 74 minutes, you immediately begin to think about what should have ended up on the chopping block.

Fortunately, that’s the album’s strength. I can’t come up with one song—not ONE—that I would like to eliminate. Sure there’s filler, but DBT’s filler is better than most band’s radio singles. It’s abrasive to hear back-to-back Cooley songs when you’re used to an Isbell number in-between and while Cooley is a master of narrative and wordplay (“chicken wing puke licks the candy apple red off his corvette”), Patterson Hood is the one who finally cracks everything wide this go-round. Songs like “The Opening Act,” “The Righteous Path,” and “That Man I Shot” are the ones that matter here. They matter because they have more than just rock and balls—they have substance and adrenalin. Sweet, fist-pumping adrenalin. Hood can swing from a snarl to a yawp like he does on “Goode’s Field Road” or serenade you with his John Ford homage “The Monument Valley.”

Of course, everything else is damn near perfect as well. And I’m slowly beginning to emulate Brad Morgan’s drumming style with his booming floor tom and lack of ride cymbal. But DBT are one of those bands built for longevity, no matter what incarnation they come in. It may be tempting to pay fleeting attention to their new release but we owe it to this band to stick with them—they would never give us less than everything they had. And right now their music sounds an awful like American music—if such an untainted thing exists—should sound: long, loud, and still sweet.

Video--"That Man I Shot (Live)" (Thanks, Stereogum)

1 comment:

Jim said...

Goode's field road was supposed to be on the dirty south, but they put lookout mountain on instead. also, vampire weekend? they're really catchy, but the guys in the band are sort of dicks. I ran monitors for them last may.