Drive-By Truckers- The Dirty South (New West)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Where The Devil Don't Stay
2. Tornadoes
3. The Day John Henry Died
4. Putting People On The Moon
5. Carl Perkins' Cadillac
6. The Sands Of Iwo Jima
7. Danko / Manuel
8. The Boys From Alabama
9. Cottenseed
10. The Buford Stick
11. Daddy's Cup
12. Never Gunna Change
13. Lookout Mountain
14. Goddamn Lonely Love

For those not familiar with them, the Drive-By Truckers are a Muscle Shoals, Alabama- based Southern Rock band. They are not your daddy’s Southern Rock. Songwriter/ vocalist Patterson Hood may be one of the most lyrically gifted songwriters to emerge in years, certainly in Southern Rock, and from the sounds of The Dirty South, he’s only gotten started. Their 2001 opus Southern Rock Opera was a critical hit and catapulted the band to a new level of attention.  It was part homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd and part affirmation and critique of the standard stereotypes about the South. With the release of the Dirty South, The Drive-By Truckers have delivered a massive 70+ minute collage of wailing guitar, social and historical commentary, and straight up, ass-shaking rock anthems. Like Southern Rock Opera, there is a common thread through many of the tracks. This time is seems dominated by key events in Hood’s youth, including a tornado that ripped through his neighborhood, Carl Perkins, and the legends and lies surrounding the film Walking Tall.

The Drive-By Truckers share vocals (and songwriting) between Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. They have different but complimentary styles, with Hood sounding more like a traditional Skynyrd protégé and Cooley with a more alt-country/ Jay Farrar approach. Cooley opens the affair with Where The Devil Don’t Stay, a tribute the hard and fast life of his father and the volatile times in which he lived. “My Daddy played poker on a stump in the woods back when the world was gray, before black and white went and chose up sides and gave a little bit of both their way.” Hood’s alternately raging and aching guitar rises triumphantly above the lines. “Puttin People On The Moon” is an indictment of our collective priorities mapped across several generations- “ Double digit unemployment, TVA be shuttin’ down soon, while over there in Huntsville, they’re putting people on the moon.” The track is more lyrically profound than musically interesting, but the layered triple guitar attack those closes out the track is something to behold.

Cooley’s next track, Carl Perkins’ Cadillac sounds like classic Uncle Tupelo. It’s a great (true) tale of the Cadillac that Carl Perkins won for getting the first #1 song on Sam Phillips’ label. Everyone assumed it would be Elvis who won the car, but it ended up being Perkins. It wasn’t well-documented that Perkins ended up having to pay the cost of the car back from his royalties. Perkins apparently learned his lesson and turned away when the larger promises of the industry (big contracts, Grammys) that were placed before him. Great closing sentiment- “Dammit Elvis, I swear son I think it’s time you came around- Making money you can’t spend ain’t what being dead’s about- You gave me all but one good reason not to do all the things you did- Now Cadillacs are fiberglass, if you were me you’d call it quits.” Hood’s next story/song follows, The Sands Of Iwo Jima. This one is the tale of his great uncle George A.’s service during World War II and how it wasn’t as it seemed in the John Wayne film. Very catchy tune with great banjo and harmonica setting the tone. “He said a shiny car didn’t mean much after all the things he’d seen- George A. never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima.” Producer Dave Barbe does a laudable job keeping the track sounding clean and simple, but also well-produced. This is true of the disc in general- it has a very pure sound, without ever sounding overproduced or inappropriate.

Boys From Alabama and The Buford Stick are a pair of tracks that address the story behind the film Walking Tall- about Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser and his unconventional ways of making the law stick in his county. Boys From Alabama has some interesting almost classic Fleetwood Mac-sounding harmonizing in the chorus. The Buford Stick attempts to clear the record on the legend behind the Joe Don Baker character. “To me he’s just another crooked lawman in Tennessee, He’s got a hot new car to keep us on our toes, And that ridiculous stick where the press corps goes, And some big time Hollywood actors playing him on the big screen.” The closing despair of Goddamn Lonely Love shows a more personal (or at least individual) side to the Truckers’ collective.

The Truckers songs are infused with the sweat and character of the South, real or fictional, and the disc comes off as colorful slice of time and place. This is their strongest release next to Southern Rock Opera, and their best sounding release to date. Beneath everything, what this band are able to do better than anyone else out there is capture a moment as a fragment of pure poetry, told authentically and with conviction, and sheath it in dramatic instrumental atmosphere. Every track has depth and fervor, an authenticity that comes from knowing no other way. There are lines that will stop you cold, other ones that will make you reflect and rethink, and there are licks that will infect your subconscious. So if you haven’t, check these guys out, they are such a wonderful alternative to most everything else that’s getting shoved your way.

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