Drive-By Truckers, ‘American Band’: NPR
Note: NPR’s First Listen audio stops after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.
Drive-By Truckers has always been a political group. Even as Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were writing wacky songs like âButtholevilleâ and âToo Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)â two decades ago, they were also calling on the character and culture of the South while embracing what they did. would soon be called the “duality of the southern thing.” Home is home, for better or for worse, but sometimes a stuck house needs a kick in the ass. It’s a unique position for a rock band that writes catchy and catchy rallying cries played not only for southerners but also for an increasingly diverse audience. More than anything, Drive-By Truckers’ examination of the Southern psyche is a microcosm of how Americans respond to triumph and tragedy.
The Truckers have long worked in history and metaphor to weave complicated morals into their songs, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the group’s 11th album, American group, responds explicitly to the desperate and ugly climate of our country at the moment. It joins a line of political topical records released over the past two decades, where some succeed and continue to resonate (Sleater-Kinney’s A beat, by Kendrick Lamar To pimp a butterfly) and others, although admirable in their passion, do not (the precipitous burning mess that is Neil Young’s Living with war). The fiery debut single, “Surrender Under Protest,” mixes a “Lost Cause” slogan from Civil War apologists with the successful campaign by civil rights activists to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. When the song came out, a certain segment of fans felt betrayed by Mike Cooley’s pointy and overwhelming position. Maybe they weren’t paying attention – but, again, it’s often easy to recognize and laugh at yourself until the words really hit home. And the music of Drive-By Truckers hits the mark.
The Alabama-born, Athens, Georgia-based group doesn’t stop there. Cooley also writes the historic “Ramon Casiano,” a muscular Muscle Shoals punk track about the late Harlon Carter – a gun rights activist and former NRA chief – who shot dead a 15-year-old Hispanic boy, but escaped incarceration. Right after âSurrender Under Protest,â Patterson Hood’s âGuns Of Umpquaâ is a thought-provoking review of the gruesome shooting at Umpqua Community College in rural Oregon last year. The song is written with its distant and poetic gaze, but it is poignant in its production: “Made it back from hell’s attack in some lointain bloody war / Only to stare down hell back home.” Hood’s mellow, almost defeated mood continues with the lonely, muffled howl of “What It Means,” which questions the point of human progress when young black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin are killed: “We live in a time when limitations are forgotten / The outer edges move and dazzle us / But the core is something rotten. “
Cooley’s uncompromising approach results in some of Drive-By Truckers’ rockiest songs in years – the “Filthy And Fried” bearing, driven by Jay Gonzalez’s B3 and southern rock boogie “Kinky Hypocrite” , in addition to those previously mentioned – but Hood’s contributions are much more moderate. It is said that absence makes the heart more loving, and in Hood’s case, it can also make it wiser. After living in the South all his life, Hood moved to Portland, Oregon, last year. The change of scenery helped produce what could be his greatest song; it’s not just about the South, but still being a Southerner. Cranky and touching “Ever South” is an immigrant song that goes back to its Scottish-Irish roots and draws parallels between that and moving to the west, when a family’s brighter future is suddenly judged on. these roots. Generations apart, these prejudices remain, but history allows us to “tell you the stories of our father and the glories of our house / Always told a little more slowly, always further south”.
American group lives up to its name in the way it digests, understands, and challenges notions of what it means to be American. In short, it’s complicated. In the group’s ambition to be current, to tell hard truths without metaphorical entanglements, American group is still remarkably nuanced in his calm, not-so-calm anger. This is and always has been the Drive-By Truckers credo. Now it’s time to challenge the public who have always taken “the duality of the South” for granted.