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
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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