DBT s brand new album is a Southern gothic rock n' roll masterpiece with 19 songs adding up to over 75 minutes of pure rock n roll. The band continues its notorious 3-guitar attack with the promotion of longtime sidekick John Neff to full member. Patterson Hood contributes 9 songs to the album (The Righteous Path, Daddy Needs A Drink), 7 songs from Mike Cooley (A Ghost To Most, Lisa's Birthday) and 3 songs from Shonna Tucker (The Purgatory Line). This it the first time Shonna has written the songs for a DBT album. All this is enhanced with musical contributions from he legendary Spooner Oldham.As Patterson Hood says about the songs on the album, Stylistically, they run the gamut from old-timey sounding country to a heavy R&B influence. Some songs that are quieter than any we've ever recorded and some that rock harder than anything we've ever done. In the end it's still all Rock and Roll (which is why that will always be the description of choice to us when describing our music in stylistic terms). Drive-By Truckers are one of the most unique recording artists and live bands in popular music today. The Truckers write about people, places and situations like no one else, and have build an amazing worldwide audience in the process.
Review by Mark Deming
Drive-By Truckers leader Patterson Hood wrote in a post on the band's website that 2007 "was supposed to be our year of taking it easy," but it doesn't seem to have worked out that way, and that's a good thing for everyone concerned. The songwriting bug seems to have bit the Drive-By Truckers sometime after the release of 2006's A Blessing and a Curse, and while that album was a bit short on top-shelf material (at least compared to the band's work since Southern Rock Opera), Brighter Than Creation's Dark is a dazzling return to form, delivering some of their finest, most eclectic, and most mature music to date. The album's strength is a pleasant surprise given the departure of guitarist and tunesmith Jason Isbell, who had become one of the group's most interesting writers, but founding members Hood and Mike Cooley have risen to the occasion with some excellent new songs, and bassist Shonna Tucker (who's also Isbell's ex-wife) steps forward as a composer and lead vocalist on this set with three great songs about broken hearts and the stuff that follows in their wake. Opening with "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife," a song by Hood sung from the perspective of a man who has just died and wonders what will become of his family, Brighter Than Creation's Dark presents 19 portraits of folks struggling to make sense of an increasingly chaotic world, ranging from an alcoholic father ("Daddy Needs a Drink") and a family man struggling to hold onto a little piece of the American dream ("The Righteous Path") to a middle-aged guy whose gotten a little too used to being lonely ("Bob") and an illegal gun dealer running short on options ("Checkout Time in Vegas"). While the Truckers are still a great full-tilt hard rock band, Brighter Than Creation's Dark finds them slowing down and turning down a bit more than usual, and in this case it works well for them -- the homey twang of "Lisa's Birthday" and "I'm Sorry Huston" gives new guitarist and pedal steel player John Neff a chance to shine, and the light acoustic arrangement of "Perfect Timing" fits the lyrical portrait of a cheerfully flawed man just fine. And "That Man I Shot" is a blazing, troubling masterpiece in which a soldier home from Iraq can't tear away the memory of a man he killed in combat ("That man I shot, I didn't know him/I was just doing my job, maybe so was he"). It's a tale of the most human consequences of war that's built from equal portions of anger, confusion, and compassion, and it's hard to imagine any other band pulling off its fusion of Southern-fried street smarts and guitar-fueled thunder. It's one of several brilliant moments on Brighter Than Creation's Dark, and less than three weeks into 2008 it's hard not to escape the feeling that with this disc we may already have the best album of the year.
Brighter Than Creation's Dark
[New West; 2008]
As guys wrestle with the encroaching responsibilities of work and family, they still often romanticize or cling to their shit-kicking youth; the Drive-By Truckers' principal songwriters, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, represent each side of this coin. Using the broadest strokes imaginable, gravelly and grizzly Hood is the endlessly vigilant, fiercely protective papa bear, while laconic slick-talker Cooley the hell-raising, yarn-spinning fuck-up.
There's always been plenty of wiggle room on either side, of course (Cooley's tensely domestic "Loaded Gun in the Closet", Hood's ball-busting "Aftermath USA"), but with the departure of talented third songwriter Jason Isbell, DBT's two founding members solidify their positions within the group on its seventh studio album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark. What at first blush might sound like unhealthy entrenchment turns out to be a brilliant study in duality, as Cooley and Hood-- seemingly in conversation with one another-- weigh the respective pulls of decadence and dependability.
The more conventional, traditional Cooley may not win as many critical plaudits as the idiosyncratic Hood, but he's outclassed his comrade over the group's last two, uneven records, contributing gems like "Where the Devil Don't Stay" and "Space City" while Hood was busy handing out self-help bromides. A tougher, smarter, funnier version of the prototypical alt-country gunslinger, Cooley's in rare wise-cracking form this time around, unspooling quick-witted, sin-soaked vignettes of colorful loners and losers that hearken back to DBT's pre-Southern Rock Opera incarnation as supreme underground redneck jokesters. "Bob" and "Lisa's Birthday" are both superbly funny character sketches (sorry, no Leon Kompowski cameo on the latter), while "Self Destructive Zones" offers a head-spinning, sardonically knowing tour of the past 20 years of angst-rock. But Cooley's most welcome contribution might be the blistering "3 Dimes Down", a loose-limbed groover from a story-centric band that's too often a lumbering musical beast.
While brother-in-arms Cooley tosses off seemingly effortless odes to fast cars and booze-fueled loving, Hood is still busy being the Tony Soprano of southern rock, an imposing man's man who nonetheless opens up his rawest emotional wounds for inspection. Bathos may have burdened much of his songwriting post-SRO, but Hood sounds reborn here thanks to a newly crystallized focus-- fatherhood. In a less emotionally seasoned songwriter's hands such frequent invocations of dads and kids might seem like a gimmick, but Hood has long been amused, compelled, and inspired by the family, going back to "Zoloft", "Sink Hole", and the immortal "The Southern Thing". Here though, Hood's hearth-honed eye is specifically trained on children, the ones we try to support and protect ("The Righteous Path", "Goode's Field Road"), and the ones we sometimes tragically leave behind. Such is the self-excoriating scenario that drives the war-themed "That Man I Shot", wherein our protagonist kills an enemy combatant and can't help wondering about the little ones he may have rendered fatherless. That emotional crescendo is followed closely by the similarly pained "The Home Front", which tautly conveys the worry of a wife and mother waiting for her man to come back from battle.
It's a mostly harrowing cycle that Hood has woven in the midst of Cooley's debauched ditties (with first-time frontwoman Shonna Tucker striking an equitable balance with her three appropriately gritty but generically sung contributions), but it's not all fatherly hand-wringing, thanks at least to the succinctly-phrased ode to decompression, "Daddy Needs a Drink". Irresponsible rabble-rouser or put-upon parent, that's a sentiment every grown-ass man can appreciate.
-Joshua Love, January 25, 2008
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