New Music 1/31/20: Drive-By Truckers

Incoming: new music!  Better yet, new music that is worth your time.

DBT

Drive-By Truckers – The Unraveling – 9 tracks / 42 minutes

On January’s best album, DBT takes a look around at America today and doesn’t understand what they see- this ain’t easy listening, but it should be considered an essential recording for 2020.

 

I vividly recall the first time I heard this band, back in 2005 when I stumbled upon a copy of their excellent 5th album The Dirty South and it immediately blew me away.  Although I was a bit late to the game, DBT has been one of my absolute favorite bands of the last fifteen years, so I will fully cop to some bias when it comes to Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and the boys.  Having given out that disclaimer, I emphatically encourage you to give this album a listen.  The music is methodical and wonderfully crafted throughout, and the lyrics are powerful, particularly on the last two thirds of the record.

While they’ve never shied away from speaking about serious issues (particularly those germane to the south where the band is from), they took a hard turn straight into social commentary on their last album, American Band.  My pick for 2016 album of the year found Patterson Hood asking some tough questions and beginning to take his place amongst the finest “protest” songwriters in America, even before Trump’s surprising election.

The Unraveling starts off with the moody piano-carried track “Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun”, which is reminiscent of Hood’s second solo album, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, before picking up the pace on “Armageddon’s Back in Town”.  This track is probably the most DBT-esque of this collection and features some clever lines from Pat.  After Mike reminds us on “Slow Ride Argument” that taking in a long drive (and a couple tall boys) to think things over is better than diving into a shouting match, things get down to it.

Patterson laments the current state of affairs and tackles some big issues head on, starting with the beautiful and timely “Thoughts and Prayers”, an early leader in the clubhouse for my favorite song of 2020.  Regarding the lack of action taken by our political leaders in the wake of incessant gun violence, Patterson sings with a snarl “when my children’s eyes look at me, and they ask me to explain; it hurts me that I have to look away; the powers that be are in for shame and come-uppance when Generation Lockdown has their day; they’ll throw the bums all out, and drain the swamp for real… you can pray the rod they’ll spare, stick it up your ass with your useless thoughts and prayers.”

“21st Century USA” describes Anytown America: corporate chain restaurants, bars, and strip malls selling goods with Made in China stickers, with hard-working folks barely scraping by.  “If Amazon can deliver salvation I’ll order it up on my phone, with big brother watching me always why must I always feel so alone… men working hard for not enough at best, women working just as hard for less… look at your children and you hope and pray, they can conjure up a better day.”  On “Heroin Again” Mr. Hood covers (over a guitar attack with considerable pep) the recent lowering life expectancy caused largely by deaths of despair (drugs, depression, and suicide).

The ominous and droning groove of “Babies in Cages” provides a heady backbone for Patterson’s pleading call for civility and humanity over immigration, and includes these sharp lines: “are we so divided that we can’t at least agree, this ain’t the country that our grand-dads fought for us to be?  Babies in cages.”

Sir Mike Cooley (knighted by yours truly) may only have singing duties on two tracks here, but his guitar work is as great as ever.  Oh,and one of those two songs (“Grievance Merchants”) is a tremendous and scathing dissertation on the hate and bile that dark corners of the internet and talk radio can inspire.  “…it’s all the fault of it, or them, or they; give a boy a target for his grievance, and he might get it in his head they need to pay”.

This music doesn’t rock as hard as their fantastic early work with its mix of southern guitar noise meets country/folk storytelling, but in a way it actually hits harder because it is music that moves you while truly having something to say.  Hard to believe it, but the men who once penned “Panties in Your Purse” and “Buttholeville” are now as clarion a voice for social justice as America has – and right when we need it most.

Key Tracks: “Thoughts and Prayers”, “Grievance Merchants”, “Babies in Cages”

Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0PsRgFSSuSeS5GTtdMqhy1?si=weeOL3t9SougPR8DkL5Yfg

 

Also heard:

Liam Gallagher – Acoustic Sessions (EP)

This EP of stripped-down versions of both solo and Oasis numbers is just fine, but none of the tracks are really standouts.  “Once” is given a slightly different vibe with Liam overlaying vocals on the chorus, and fans should definitely give it a listen, just don’t expect too much.

Joseph – Trio Sessions: Vol. 1 (EP)

On this EP with a live feel, the gals sound as glorious as usual.  Like the Gallagher album above, there isn’t much extraordinarily different here from the studio versions.  “Without You” hits harder with the vocals given more emphasis, and “Green Eyes” is just as fucking amazing without the production and gloss of the original version.

2 thoughts on “New Music 1/31/20: Drive-By Truckers

  1. Now to be fair, sometimes you’ve got to give an album a little time to really settle in and appreciate it fully. I like this album, but I don’t think it quite hits the level they did on American Band. That said, it is easily one of the best so far this year, and we’ll see if I feel the same way in a few months. American Band, for me, is essentially a perfect album. I think Hood and Cooley have such a dynamic songwriting relationship. That partnership is among the best and among the most underrated in music today. I would add 21st Century USA and Armegeddon’s Back in Town as key tracks. Grievance Merchants is my favorite right now.

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    1. Good points all – that is the difficulty of reviewing an album after hearing it for just a few weeks..
      Have you seen them live? Last time I did, Pat and Mike took turns, alternating songs – it was terrific. I’ll be seeing them next month in Pat’s new stomping grounds Portland, OR.

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