We Got the Beat
The Big To Do about Drive-By Truckers
On “After The Scene Dies,” a typically scorching rocker from Drive-By Truckers’ latest release, "The Big To-Do," frontman Patterson Hood laments a future point in time “When the last six-string slinger has to bow down for health insurance/And accept the mundane.”
If the Truckers have anything to say about it, you need not ever worry about that day arriving.
"The Big To-Do" is yet another set of raucous rock and roll from the Athens, Georgia veterans who’ve been upholding the standards of Southern rock set by Skynyrd, The Allmans, and .38 Special since before the turn of the millennium. But those unfamiliar with the band who labor under the misconception that they’re beholden to some stereotypical template of guns, booze, and women should take a closer listen.
The Truckers are as profound in their own way as any group of songwriters around. Their characters may indulge in those stereotypes, but they’ve got the psychological scars to prove it.
Hood is front and center as usual, charging things up with the thunderous opening track “Daddy Learned To Fly.” The powerful guitar attack of Mike Cooley and John Neff ride roughshod over the song, leaving Hood to subtly slip in his tale about a young boy stung deeply by his father’s death. This balance of musical might and lyrical melancholy is what the Truckers do best.
Lyrical detail and dexterity are on display throughout Hood’s compositions. On “The Fourth Night Of My Drinking,” he spins couplets like “I had a leather liver and lipstick streaks/I had a disposition of valleys and peaks” with astounding ease. “After The Scene Dies” shows his defiance in the face of a dying rock and roll dream as the band apes Crazy Horse, while “The Wig He Made Her Wear” is a real stunner, part Southern Gothic, part "Twin Peaks," a drolly horrific story song about a lecherous preacher’s comeuppance.
Hood passes off the baton here with solid results. Bassist Shonna Tucker got her songwriting feet wet on 2008’s "Brighter Than Creation’s Dark," and finds her groove here with “You Got Another,” a heartbroken ballad as big as the prairie. Cooley meanwhile contributes only three sets of lyrics (the band shares credit on all music), and his two rockers, “Birthday Boy” and “Get Downtown,” are a bit non-descript. But he also soars when things slow down, as he waxes philosophic on the touching closer, “Eyes Like Glue.”
"The Big To-Do" peaks early. The more subdued second half has a few ambitious moments but lacks the melodic punch and rhythmic wallop of the first. Maybe it could have been prevented by just a little more editing, as the baker’s dozen worth of songs could easily have been whittled down to a sleek and powerful 10 with little loss. But that’s a small knock on an album brimming with so many positives.
It’s probably no coincidence that "The Big To-Do" starts and ends with songs about fatherhood, the Truckers humbly bowing down before this mighty responsibility.
Cooley sings in “Eyes Like Glue” about the point “when the best that you can do becomes all you can stand.” Many of the characters in the Drive-By Truckers’ songs reach that crossroads and are defined by the decisions they make there.
That we care so much about their outcomes as we shake our heads along to the guitars is a testament to this band, one that forges new ground each time out even as they do honor to their towering influences.