Drive-By Truckers’ new album breaks typical country mold
February 28, 2008
Let it be known that modern country is not my favorite type of music. Too often it sticks to stale formulas, afraid of its own shadow and of actually coming out of its skin and tossing away the slide guitar. Most times, modern country artists stay the same, narrow path (Kenny Chesney, anyone?), perform great music but terrible lyrics (I’m looking at you Mr. Paisley) or use an accent as a gimmick (shame on you, Miss Twain). So upon hearing Drive-By Truckers’ newest album, “Brighter Than Creations Dark,” I slumped when the honky-tonk piano accompanied upbeat guitar strums and banjo picks.
It was when Patterson Hood began to croon that everything perked up. “When he reached the gates of heaven / He didn’t understand / He knew that his folks were coming over / Or was it all a dream? / Was it all a crazy dream?” he speaks, delicately and sincerely. This is what country music should be: telling stories of tragedy and heartache with genuine emotion and feeling.
You’ll sympathize with Hood in “The Righteous Path” as he shouts everything he does to keep in the right direction. “I got a couple of big secrets I’d kill to keep hid / I don’t know God but I fear his wrath”. On “Daddy Needs a Drink” we hear the story of a father battling for the sake his family: “Daddy needs a drink to keep the wheels from rubbing / To compensate for nothing or nothing going on”. And the spirit of Johnny Cash lives through “That Man I Shot” as Hood cries out, “That man I shot, I didn’t know him / I was just doing my job, maybe so was he.”
With great lines like these, the music better be able to back it up, and it does with exceptional grace. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s artistic protégé, Drive-By Truckers excel in laying down good ‘ol country rock. “3 Dimes Down” sounds like it built on the “Gimme Three Steps” riff with dirtier guitar work. “You and Your Crystal Meth” takes its cue from newer acts like The Kings of Leon, adding echoes and stripping the song to minimalist-scorching guitar work and raw vocals. Even Dolly Parton is captured as bassist/vocalist Shonna Tucker sings “The Purgatory Line.”
You can complain about the album’s length (almost and hour and twenty minutes), but I’ll take whatever Drive-By Truckers throw. As said on “The Monument Valley,” “It’s a strong wind blowing on the open range / It’s gonna be beautiful and it’s gonna be strange,” and really, that’s what music, any kind of music, should be. By breaking the mold and taking risks, “Brighter Than Creations Dark” does more than fill your head with sound. It will leave you shaken in your soul.
Matthew Loosbrock is a student at UW-River Falls.