We all participated in the Crystal Beach 5k this morning and I managed a “decent-but-not-super-impressive” time of 24:10 which at this juncture of my training, well, let’s just say I’ll take it. The big reward though, is that now that it’s all over I get to chill out and listen to something I’m super excited about. You see, yesterday (Oct. 7th) was a near holy day with the release of the new Drive-By Truckers album ‘American Band‘.
Can you tell I’m just a titch excited?
Hold my calls.
The Drive-By Truckers has always been a political band. Even while Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were writing goofy (yet still amazingly awesome) songs like ‘Buttholeville‘ and ‘Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)’ two decades ago, they were also calling out Southern character and culture while embracing what they’d soon dub the “duality of the Southern thing”. Home is home, for better or worse, but sometimes a home stuck in its ways needs a kick in the ass. It’s a unique position for a rock band that writes catchy, foot-stomping rallying cries played not only to Southerners, but also to an increasingly diverse audience…including myself.
Drive-By Truckers picked a nice time to come up with one of their sharpest assessments yet of what Patterson once called “the Southern Thing”. ‘American Band’ is a Southern liberal’s attempt to puzzle through the emulsified white working class alienation and resentment that’s been endlessly cited as a force driving the rise of Donald Trump. The Confederate flag, Iraq, the NRA, immigration hysteria and other hot buttons are pushed, but Hood and fellow songwriter Cooley rarely go in for sloganeering. Instead, they use empathy, vivid storytelling and subtle imagery to unpack brutal complexities.
Predictably, Cooley brings the album’s biggest rocker ‘Surrender Under Protest‘ which evokes the Civil War’s “lost cause” tradition to lash out against Dixie-pride holdouts but still seems to leave room for dialogue, and ‘Ramone Casiano‘, a topical folk rocker telling the little known tale of former National Rife Association leader Harlon Carter and the murder of 15-year-old Ramon Casiano. Patterson reciprocates with the deep character sketches that I absolutely adore, like ‘Guns of Umpqua‘, about an Oregon mass shooting, that unfolds gently as a crisp morning, making for an almost impossibly poetic depiction of unfathomable loss and tragedy; ‘What It Means‘ reflects on systemic racism over swelling organ, a soft honky tonk two-step and hand claps and ‘Sun Don’t Shine‘ which is damn pretty as far as Southern Rock go.
‘What it Means‘ may be one of their most introspective songs about America and current “state of the union” in this asinine Donald Trump era we live in. ‘Baggage‘ ends the album with Hood’s reflection on Robin William’s suicide and his own struggles with depression, which will probably hit really close to home for anyone else who has dealt with these demons. There’s also the cool little 45-inch single for ‘Kinky-Hypocrite‘ thrown in for good measure.
It’s hard to stress how amazing this album is. The band is tight, the music is mature, and the message is deep. And, likely, this album will only get better the more I get to know it.
You see, there are two types of DBT albums: the kind that grab me right away and I fall in love with then ultimately become obsessed about, and the kind that grow on me a little slower, yet I grow to love it just as much.
This album is certainly that first kind of album.
It’s a fantastic listen this afternoon while munching taco salad, reading a few chapters of ‘Road to Valor‘ (Aili McConnon), watching the Ironman World Championships and resting my sore post-race quads. Oh, and tickets for the February 4th show at The Phoenix in Toronto, Ontario have already been procured.
See you at the rock show!