Full disclosure: Drive-By Truckers (DBT) has been one of this reviewer’s favorite bands for about 8 years. They have generally been consistent ever since their 2001 double album, Southern Rock Opera, which cemented them as the most prominent southern rock/alternative country band in the 21st century. American Band is DBT’s 11th studio album.
Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood have always been the principal songwriters of DBT. While Hood’s songs can sometimes suffer from monotony in terms of dynamics and variety, Cooley’s songs almost always have interesting musical ideas. This is still true on American Band. Hood’s tracks like “Sun Don’t Shine”, “Ever South”, and “What It Means” seem especially monotonous and lazily thrown together. On the other hand, Hood tracks like “Guns of Umpqua” and “Darkened Flags on The Cusp of Dawn” are strong songs where his spartan writing style actually works.
Cooley, typically writing more of the southern fried, bluesy rock tracks, continues to be the stronger of the two songwriters. Tracks like “Surrender Under Protest”, “Ramon Casino”, and “Kinky Hypocrite” are three of the strongest songs on the album. The latter recalls Exile On Main Street-era Rolling Stones.
On American Band, the lyrics take a political bent. In recent years, Cooley and especially Hood have been quite vocal about their progressive politics (Hood wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times about how the Confederate Flag should be removed from institutions, flags, etc. in the South), but this is the first time they’ve really put those views into their songs. Prior to American Band, most of their lyrics were based on Southern Gothic-esque stories about various characters plagued by drug and alcohol addictions, dysfunctional relationships, and mental illness. DBT’s lyrics have also variously focused on their complicated relationship with their Southern heritage, and American Band is an extension of that. There are still stories with clever turn-of-word phrases, but the focus is more on the current social and political environment than ever before.
This is certainly not the best DBT release, and to a certain extent it sounds like they are getting older and more tired. However, it is an interesting new lyrical direction, and it’s probably their best album since 2008’s “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.”
Recommended If You Like: Gram Parsons, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lucero, Backyard Tire Fire, Old 97s, Ryan Adams, The Rolling Stones, The Bottle Rockets
Recommended Tracks: 1 (Ramon Casiano), 3 (Surrender Under Protest), 4 (Guns of Umpqua), 7 (Kinky Hypocrite)
Do Not Play: 5 (Filthy & Fried)
Written by Josh Gaston on 09/22/2016