Friday, March 23, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1119: The Drive-By Truckers

I had a late night getting home and it was all I could do to watch a movie and then hit the hay. But today I am off work, up early and ready to roll! I think I’ll start the day with a cup of coffee and a music review!

Disc 1119 is… The Dirty South
Artist: Drive-By Truckers

Year of Release: 2004

What’s up with the Cover? More awesome and troubling art from Wes Freed, who does a lot of Drive-By Truckers covers. I’m glad that he does, because his style is great. Here we have some kind of Dr. Seuss tale gone wrong, where the lonely haunted forest is actually lonely and haunted – in this case by some card-slingin’, booze-drinkin’ demon. Even the moon is freaky in Freed’s world. Good times!

How I Came To Know It: I originally discovered Drive By-Truckers through my love for Jason Isbell (Isbell played on a few Drive By Truckers albums, including this one). Although this is arguably the Drive-By Truckers’ most famous album it took forever to find, and was one the last one I added to my collection.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 6 Drive-By Truckers albums and I like them all. Of the six, I put “The Dirty South” in 5th place.

Ratings: 3 stars

Some albums just drip with geographical relevance so it comes as no surprise that “the Dirty South” soaks in a lot of imagery and storylines from the American South. Although my experience in the Southern states is limited, the album does a good job of painting the picture, albeit through a grimier and dirtier lens than it deserves. Hence the title, I suppose.

Mike Cooley’s “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” launches the album with a powerful thud of drum that shakes your innards, followed by a furious guitar riff that walks right up to the edge of metal, but stays grounded in the blues. It is a song about illicit poker games and illegal moonshine stills, and perfectly sets the tone for the record.

Not done with Southern themes, the album then switches to Patterson Hood’s more folksy “Tornadoes” which showcases the band’s talent for storytelling. My favourite verse:

“’It came without no warning’ said Bobbi Jo McLean
She and husband Nolen always loved to watch the rain
It sucked him out the window, he ain’t come home again
All she can remember is “It sounded like a train.’”

Another favourite, is the jangly blues of “Daddy’s Cup” a story about a boy’s love affair with racing, and the father that instilled it in him. Again, they steep the story in specific imagery that makes you feel like you’re there:

“The first one I bought was a Mustang #2
Nobody kept ‘em longer than they kept a pair of shoes
They started showing up at every used car lot in town
A V-8 on a go-cart, easy terms, no money down.”

Even though I’m a Camaro guy, it is hard not to love that many clever turns of phrase in a single quatrain.

In later years, the Truckers were driven by the talents of Cooley and Hood alone, but in the early days they were a three-headed beast, with Jason Isbell playing Harrison to their Lennon/McCartney. On “Dirty South” Isbell gets four songs, which is double what he manages on his other two Drive-By Trucker albums. My favourite of these is the last one on the record, “Goddamn Lonely Love” which captures the hurt and heartache Isbell would go on to perfect in his solo career.

Unfortunately, it is not all good news. At 14 songs and 70 minutes of music “The Dirty South” feels bloated, and I would’ve been a lot happier with 2-3 fewer songs and 10-15 minutes less time. This would increase the overall quality of the songs, and also make it easier to wrap your head around the album as a whole.

A good starting point would be to cut back the number of songs about Sherriff Buford Pusser. There are three of these, where one would do. My choice would be “Cottonseed” – it doesn’t tell the story the best, but it is the best song of the bunch.

Also, while there are some killer riffs and beautiful stories, there is also a lot of excess production. The band really embraces guitar reverb on this one and I think it cuts into my appreciation of the playing. It also muddies the melodies. I know it is deliberate, and I also know a lot of people love that about “the Dirty South” but they can sing its virtues on their own reviews; I prefer my production cleaner.

“The Dirty South” is probably the most well-known Drive-By Truckers album, giving me high expectations. The fact that I found it last of the six in my collection added to the anticipation. While it didn’t live up to the hype, it is a solid record nonetheless.

Best tracks: Where the Devil Don’t Stay, Tornadoes, Cottonseed, Daddy’s Cup, Goddamn Lonely Love

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