Monday, January 7, 2008

Last Night I Slept With My Boots On Again

The new Drive-By Truckers rekkid (I'm pretty sure it's legally mandated that all their releases be referred to as "rekkids") is the band's best since Decoration Day. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'd given up on the band, at least certainly not to the extent I'd soured on the Fiery Furnaces before they delivered last year's outstanding Widow City. Still, A Blessing and a Curse was DBT's most "musical" rekkid, as useless a designation as determining the Clapton album with the best lyrics. Even at Blessing's power-pop best the Truckers were merely competent tunesmiths; this fan had long since made peace with the group's graceless stomp, provided I was getting the masterful storytelling and tough-nut humor that's always put DBT head and shoulders above most of their insurgent country-rock brethren.

Mike Cooley remained sharp amidst the decline, and while Jason Isbell's Blessing material was fairly weak, he could claim a couple of the best songs on 2004's The Dirty South. Really it was Patterson Hood who'd primarily lost his fastball, his heartfelt but always satisfyingly scuzzy narratives suddently getting gooey with empty platitudes and self-help banalities.

Finally and fortunately, however, Hood's figured out a way to keep the sentiment but still make it sting, namely by focusing on the family. The opening track's title "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" provides the subtext for virtually all of Hood's contributions, though his quandries with hearth and home turn darker and deeper as the album progresses, culminating in a pair of tremendous war-themed efforts, "That Man I Shot" and "The Home Front," that examine global conflict as it touches individual lives, families and communities, much as erstwhile DBT member Jason Isbell did with last year's brilliant solo meditation "Dress Blues." "That Man I Shot" is particularly poignant, with Hood eliciting the album's strongest chills for his rumination on whether the enemy he just struck down had "little ones" of his own.

Speaking of Isbell, I thought his departure might be fatal for DBT considering he'd been arguably the band's best songwriter during his tenure. I guess it's further proof of the mysteriousness of band dynamics that his exit seems to have coincided with artistic rejuvenations from Hood and Cooley. Patterson might be glum and grave here, but luckily Cooley's still taking the piss, and doing it as well as ever. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the new album is the return of the genuine, wise-crackin', shit-kickin' C&W that marked the band's first two (criminally underexposed) rekkids. The country-rocker "3 Dimes Down" fucking blazes, but even when Cooley turns off the juice he still whips ass, laying down sly, sleazy little acoustic vignettes like "Bob," "Lisa's Birthday" and "Checkout Time in Vegas" that damn near meet the gold standard of his early gems "Panties in Your Purse" and "Love Like This."

Oh, and as I'm sure every review written about this album will mention, it's longer than a motherfucker. Which I reckon accounts for this 495 word post.

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