Drive By Truckers- The Dirty South/ A Blessing…/Brighter Than../ The Big To Do

Posted: July 30, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Athens, Georgia has historically been regarded as the birthplace “college rock”.  Bands such as the B-52’s, REM, Matthew Sweet, and Widespread Panic helped put the town in the forefront of the music industry in the 80’s. In the 1990’s the trend continued, with the Elephant 6 Collective producing quirky and art oriented acts such as Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control.

But without a doubt, the Athens band that has been the most prolific of the past decade is The Drive By Truckers. The band was formed in the late 90’s by longtime friends and musical collaborators Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Music ran in Hood’s blood, his father being legendary Muscle Shoals session musician Spencer Hood. Together with a revolving stable of musicians (including the elder Hood), the duo released a pair of albums prior to 2000, Gangstabilly (1998) and Pizza Deliverance (1999). While neither of these releases alone yielded any major impact, the band gained national popularity via national touring following Pizza.

The turn of the century saw the band solidifying themselves as a tight knit and road tested unit , as well as the release of what was considered a breakthrough album. 2001’s double album Southern Rock Opera saw the band’s experience and cohesiveness become apparent. The concept album was set against the backdrop of the South in the 1970’s. The glory and tragedy of Lynyrd Skynyrd is used as a reference is many of the songs, as was that era’s Southern Rock bands in general. The album received critical praise and the Truckers were names band of the year (2002) by alt country/American magazine  No Depression.

Shortly after the release and subsequent tour of Southern Rock Opera, the band added a new guitarist, Alabama native Jason Isbell. Isbell would become an integral part to a new era for the band. Along with Cooley and Hood, Isbell handled songwriting and vocal duties for the band’s fourth album, 2003’s Decoration Day. The songs were a continuation of the themes from the previous album. Incest, infidelity, suicide, and drug abuse comprised the lyrical themes. This marked their first release on the New West label. Combining a melodic Southern Rock sound with an undeniable country overtone, the album met even higher critical and fan praise than its predecessor. Publications as diverse as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone placed it on their 2003 Best lists. The Truckers spent most of the year touring in support of the album before quickly heading back into the studio.

The result was their fifth album, 2004’s The Dirty South. The album was yet another concept styled album, with most of the songs being influenced by themes from the underbelly of Southern history. It should be noted that the album saw increased songwriting and vocal duties being handled by Jason Isbell. The result was a true indicator of Isbell’s talent and his significance in the dynamic of the band. Four out of the album’s fourteen tracks are credited to Isbell, including the heart wrenching closer, Goddamn Lonely Love.

The following album, A Blessing and a Curse, was released in 2006 and it showcased a previously unheard side of the band. All but shedding the “Southern Rock” sound and moving in a different lyrical direction, the album is heavy on the Faces, Stones, and Petty influences. The songwriting and vocals on the tracks were predominantly Hood’s, with Cooley and Isbell only credited with 2 tracks each. Though it wasn’t the most popular album with the Trucker’s fans, Blessing peaked at 50 on the Billboard 200, which was their highest chart up until that point.

The big news following Blessing was the departure of Jason Isbell. His absence would be obvious on the following album, 2008’s double album Brighter Than Creations Dark. Gone were Isbell’s crunching guitars and smooth vocals. However, the album marked a return to the Southern style that the band had departed from on the previous album. Lyrically and musically, the songs channel a stripped down and country spirit that the band hadn’t indulged since the Gangstabilly sessions. Also, the album marked the first time that bassist Shonna Tucker contributed vocals to the songs. Her haunting southern drawl could easily be mistaken for Stevie Nicks on track 4 I’m Sorry Houston and track 13 Purgatory Line.

The most recent album, The Big To Do, was released in April 2010. The album showcases the band’s genre hopping diversity as it is yet another big leap from its predecessor. The songs are definitely leaning more towards the rock and roll end of the spectrum and the presence of a keyboard on the tracks is significant. The Big To Do is the most widely successful Truckers album to date, landing at 22 on the Billboard 200 and number 1 on the US Independent charts. In support of the album, the band is currently touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It is slated to be followed by Go Go Boots later this year,which will feature the remainder of the tracks from the same recording session as The Big To Do.

The Dirty South (2004)

A Blessing and A Curse (2006)

Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)

The Big To Do (2010)

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