FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

There Ain’t Much to Country Livin’

A few years ago I heard about a band that was doing a kind of updated country-rock thing and went to seem them play Irving Plaza. They played for about an hour and half, dazzling what otherwise would have been a jaded New York crowd with their proud, aggressive songs and the brutal realism of their lyrics. After the last chord was struck and the world started spinning again, I went over to their merch booth to pick up as many of their records as I could fit in my pockets.

The Drive-By Truckers have been touring and recording for about thirteen years. They’ve put out seven studio albums and a couple live sides, gently modifying their sound with each new release while staying true to the gritty subject matter they’ve chosen to depict. But no matter how much they tweak the arrangements they never give up the three guitars that decorate these records. The counter-melodies these guitars contribute ebb and flow from left to right, supporting and complimenting the vocal part while never getting in its way. The rhythm section is equally restrained. They tend to choose just what’s right for the song whether they’re playing one of their famous “molasses in an igloo” dirges or an up tempo country punk rocker.

At the beginning of next month they release a collection of outtakes and previously unreleased material called The Fine Print. Most people tend to be skeptical of records like this because the songs on these musical grab bags weren’t released for a reason. However, the tracks that grace this compilation are the kind that most artists would build an album around. It’s hard to imagine why a tune like “When The Well Runs Dry” would ever hit the cutting room floor. This bleak portrayal of the people who we leave behind is exquisitely painful and is made even more so by the foundation laid by a churning, vibrato soaked organ. It’s a song that makes it mighty difficult to avoid hitting the repeat button.

This record also showcases Patterson Hood’s talent as an interpreter of other people’s material. It’s the first time they’ve released any covers on a full album and each one is better than the last. Like his take on Tom Petty’s “Rebels”. It’s full of that mix of tragic southern pride and bittersweet recklessness which has been such a landmark in Hood’s emotional range. Or there’s his interpretation of Warron Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” which talks about the low points of country life. In this tune they make a bold statement by contradicting Lynyrd Skynyrd. After three verses of visceral descriptions of the shame and agony which is ever present in poor southern life Hood growls Zevon’s words as if they were written just for him:

There Ain’t much to country Livin’,
Sweat, Piss, Jizz, Blood,
Sweet Home Alabama play that dead man’s song,
Turn them speakers up full blast,
Play it all Night long.

Also present on the album is a version of “Like a Rolling Stone” and a heartbreaking Tom. T. Hall story-song about a Vietnam vet coming home in a wheelchair called “Mama Bake a Pie”.  Hood not only makes each song his own, but molds them to fit into the vision DBT follows.

The most convincing reason as to why The Drive-By Truckers, and more specifically this record, are special; is their fearlessness towards paradox. Songs on this collection have a tendency to tell both sides of the story, often all but directly contradicting each other. Like on the third and fourth tracks where Mike Cooley talks about Wilson Dam flooding the holler where a man spent his life. The loss of his home and the way he grew accustomed to living eventually drives him to suicide. The very next track is Jason Isbell thanking the Tennessee Valley Authority (The organization which built the dam) for giving his family opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had. Both songwriters make each argument sound so convincing that it’s hard to know who to believe.

It’s not that they aren’t making a clear statement. Hood, Cooley, and Isbell are full of strong, often subversive, positions not just on the south but on life in general. It just so happens that these perspectives don’t always agree with each other. As the last chord rings and the world starts spinning again, you end up thinking about the problem in a way that makes a lot less sense, and so ultimately is a lot more realistic.

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail