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The Drive-By Truckers
The Big To-Do
ATO Records
www.drivebytruckers.com


Southern-flavored rock, alt-country and jam-bands are genres that house many flawed bands that feed on tired clichés. Though several bands have gone on from jam-band fan obscurity to being the toast of the mainstream press (2 examples: My Morning Jacket and Wilco), few have gone on to become truly great like say, Wilco and Son Volt. Some bide their time, hang out on the fringes, play great shows, work with legends like Booker T of Booker T And The MGs fame, build strong fan bases through touring and expressive musical experimentation and still bask in the glory of relative anonymity among citizens of the outside world. This is what The Drive-By Truckers have accomplished.

Few bands have achieved a level of comfortable celebrity and still not "sell out" like The Drive-By Truckers. With their latest The Big To-Do, the band has proved that they are one of the few - or only - band capable enough of carrying on the grand old tradition of the Southern gentleman storyteller. Among that prestigious class is now Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the band's lyrical one-two punch.

My approach to The Truckers began with the release of Hood's solo-release Murdering Oscar, a stark, almost Nebraska album that proved to me that he was indeed a true songwriter; then comes The Big To-Do where Hood and Cooley pen an album that is equal parts Leaving Las Vegas and Deliverance.

The album opens with the story of, we assume, Hood's father on "Daddy Learned To Fly" then steps directly into the middle of a soul-crushing drinking binge ( "My Fourth Day Of Drinking") where he realizes that "it'll be done with me before I'm done with it." These are the words of a man that knows drink will kill him and wishes it would hurry up and finish the job. The tales that make up this album are either bits from the Jerry Springer Show or the boys in the Truckers have been eavesdropping at one of my family reunions. Either way, there is some juicy, demented stuff here and that makes for a beautifully screwed up record.

There's the perverted preacher whose kinky proclivities get him killed by his wife ("The Wig He Made Her Wear"), the town scumbag who's gone missing and everyone hopes has drowned ( "Drag The Lake Charlie") and the tragic story of "The Flying Wallendas." There is no real joy in The Big To-Do. What is present are the demons of loss, alcoholism, hating your job, and endless desperation. This is life in the American South of old and in the America of today. If you can't live high on the hog you might as well exorcise some devils, right? Cooley and Hood do that better than nearly anyone in the music world today.

There are weaknesses to be found on The Big To-Do, mostly Hood's Tom Petty vocal fetish, but the album is worth the minor sonic inconveniences to get to what really matters: the words, the music and how they make you feel. In this case, that feeling is garnering pleasure from another man's guilt and if that makes you feel strangely excited than the Truckers have done their job.

-Danny R. Phillips

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