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Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do

on March 17, 2010, 8:00am

Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers have been chronicling Southern sturm and drang since their formation in 1996. Among the characters that people their earthy songs are Wal-Mart working stiffs, tornado refugees, and shady law enforcement types. Led by founding member Patterson Hood, the Truckers–guitarist Mike Cooley, drummer Brad Morgan, bassist Shona Tucker, guitarist John Neff and keyboardist Jay Gonzalez–have made a career of spinning slice of life tales with deft musicianship and incisive songwriting (sample lyric from their latest album, The Big To-Do: “I’m almost out of valium, courage and self respect”). While 2001’s Southern Rock Opera and 2004’s The Dirty South were concept albums, Big To-Do is a series of unconnected, yet vividly realized vignettes backed by muscular musicianship.

From the first jangly notes of “Daddy Learned to Fly”, the Truckers’ trademark three-guitar attack grabs the listener. With churning guitars and Hood’s world-weary vocals, the songs throughout To-Do are at turns rousing, irreverent and bittersweet. Standout track “The First Night of My Drinking” chronicles one man’s very long bender with such memorable lyrics as “On the second night of my drinkin’/I was looking for my car/and as luck would have it, I found it parked outside my bar.” The delivery is sardonic, but the story Hood tells through his lyrics (“I was headed for a fall”) and the mournful guitar at the song’s bridge, make it clear this tale won’t end well for its protagonist.

Stream-of-consciousness lyrics, dissonant guitar and a shuffling beat punctuate the noir-like “The Wig He Made Her Wear”, which deals with a God-less man of the cloth and the vengeful wife who takes revenge on him (“Everyone was shocked at the scene of the crime/she’d taken the kids across two state lines”).

Hood continues his penchant for sympathizing with the working stiff on the hard charging (and aptly titled) “This F***ing Job” (“Working this job is like a knife in the back…It ain’t getting’ me farther for all my strivin’”). A better anthem for these recessionary times will be hard to find.

The band switches gears on the ballad “You Got Another”. The lovelorn song begins with romantic plucks of the piano before Tucker contributes a lead vocal and trades gentle harmonies with Hood (“You got another and you’ll go to her”).

Likewise, on the album closer “Eyes Like Glue”, a father talks ruefully to his young son (“Your eyes are stuck like glue to every foolish thing I say and do”). The track is earnest and sentimental without being saccharine, a truly poignant end to an album of startling power and beauty.

The songwriting throughout this album is both conversational and profound; while the music behind it all is at turns rollicking, quirky, confrontational and heartfelt. Fans of their previous work won’t be disappointed.

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