If the South had a modern-day storyteller, I
believe that role would be divided equally among the three highly
talented songwriters in The Drive-By Truckers. Their sixth release,
The Dirty South, reminds me of why they are one
of my favorite bands. Listening to this album is like sitting
at the foot of your old, slightly cantankerous southern uncle
as he tells you about how Sheriff Buford Pusser got what he
deserved or how them people over in Huntsville can put rockets
on the moon, but can't manage to keep people downriver from
getting sick. This album is gritty, edgy and has plenty of the
great storytelling that people have come to expect from The
As frontman Patterson Hood has repeated several times in recent interviews, this album is less about the choices people make (which was a theme of their last album, Decoration Day) and more about what people do when those choices have been taken out of their hands. Violent tornadoes, crooked politicians, dry counties, the draft... how people deal with these things is a thread of continuity throughout the record, as we see both the good and bad sides of human nature surface in the wake of uncontrollable events.
The Truckers seem to be moving forward with their music. They stay true to what they know, and they do it well, without sacrificing the creativity or the listenability of their music. Fans of the Truckers will no doubt love this new record, and I've no doubt that new fans will flock in droves.
Production-wise, The Dirty South is very nice
and smooth. One thing I really love about the Truckers' albums
is that they make a point not to take out all the bits of conversation
and random sounds. I can't explain exactly why, but it is endearing,
not annoying. It contributes to the sense of the listener being
told stories by real people. You don't get that sterile, prepackaged
feel that some records have where each song is separated from
the one following it. Instead, it makes you feel like you've
been granted access to a bunch of guys recording a great album
and having a hell of a time doing it.
So... enough philosophical bullshit. Simply put, this record rocks! I haven't had it out of my CD player for longer than a few days since I got it and I can't say that about many albums I listen to anymore. The mix of songs is also great. The rockin' tunes are interspersed with wistful ballads that leave you feeling slightly off guard until the next song rocks you off your ass.
Hmmm, maybe at this point I should say a bit about what kind
of music this is. It's difficult to categorize for me. I suppose
you could call it balls to the wall, southern rock that is kind
of intermixed with twangy country inspired ballads (and waltzes!).
Influences? Hell, I don't know. I've never been great at compartmentalizing
bands into neat little musical boxes. And, The Drive-By Truckers
in particular give me problems. I do know, however, that if
you like loud guitars, excellent songwriting, and PBR, that
you'll love this band and this record.
One thing I will say, though, is that it's nice that each of
the three songwriters/singers (Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood,
and Jason Isbell)
get a pretty equal share of time on this record. Each one of
them brings something different to the microphone and this gives
a great versatility and depth to the album. You can see this
in my favorite songs from the album, for instance: Where
the Devil Don't Stay is a great song with heavy guitars
and a great drum line fronted by Cooley's raspy vocals. Likewise,
Danko/Manuel is a twangy song (and a waltz!) overlaid
with Isbell's clear and expressive voice. As I've said in a
previous review, his songs give me goosebumps, and this
is no exception.
Patterson Hood's own high point comes when he fronts Boys
From Alabama, a song about the redneck mafia. His voice-over
at the beginning brings up comparisons to gangstah rap, southern
style, then flows into a rollicking good old honky tonk song.
Finally, Never Gonna Change adds a certain rhythmic flow
to the entire thing. All the instruments, along with Isbell's
voice, just seem to rise and fall in perfect cadence.
As for weaker moments, the only one I can point out is Sands
of Iwo Jima. Admittedly, I love the lyrics and I love this
song. Mostly. However, Hood's falsely high voice through parts
of it just irritate me. I saw him sing this song live and he
dispensed with the falsetto and it worked so much better. But,
that's really it. Otherwise, the rest of The Dirty South