Monday, September 24, 2012

Drive-By Truckers 2001-2011

I've been interested in this band for quite a while now. They've gotten consistently good press, and they have a pretty loyal fan base. They used the internet as a marketing tool long before most other bands. Their combination of Lynyrd Skynyrd-style three guitar interplay, early Wilco alt-country, and a penchant for writing big Southern Gothic songs full of the highs and (more often) the lows in the lives of modern, everyday poor white Southerners is inspired. What's not to like?

I have three of their ten studio records. Recently, with the help of local libraries, I've gotten a very broad picture of the band's evolution, at least since 2001, when they released Southern Rock Opera, their early peak, and a fine record by any measure. That record features more great songs than most, and includes the must-hear trilogy of The Southern Thing, The Three Great Alabama Icons, and Wallace. These three songs tell a great story, and that is exactly what this band does so well.

They mine the modern South, with its hypocrites, hucksters, politicians, preachers, and beer-swilling low life. And they bring some humanity to all the hard-luck stories they tell. All of their subsequent records work the same territory, often carrying a specific sub-theme on the modern South. There is always a touching moment of heartbreak, and there is always some loud, rude guitar rock. Sometimes there are a few that fall in the middle and seem like they could have been left off, but their best songs are worth the ride.

The Dirty South 2004, A Blessing And A Curse 2006 and Brighter Than Creation's Dark 2008 all keep the quality level high. 2003's Decoration Day feels like a lesser record today, and their more recent work, 2010's The Big To-Do and 2011's Go-Go Boots lacks some of the focus of their earlier releases.

Brighter Than Creation's Dark is an especially bleak record, and also one of their better. Another trilogy of songs, The Man I Shot, Purgatory Line, and The Home Front, this time focused on Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, is moving in a way most rock isn't sensitive or intelligent enough to pull off. These guys aren't afraid of taking on the big questions, even if the answers are painful.

They lift things up and expose the soft, and sometimes ugly underbelly. The songs are full of hard-luck losers, and good folk that just somehow wake up on the front lawn. Or in jail. They do it with conviction. They do it with sometimes brutal honesty, as well as some Neil Young-like musical brutality. And they write sensitive ballads focused on the smallest details of everyday life. If there's a problem, it's that they are so very intense. It can get exhausting.

Rock and roll that's intense. I suppose that isn't really a problem.

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