Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Stories)"

If I’d bought Patterson Hood’s “Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)” before the end of 2009, there’s little doubt in my mind that it would have topped my “Best of 2009” list. But that would have been difficult, because until he was recommended to me by a friend and colleague last month, I’d never heard of him, and never listened to anything by the band that he fronts in his “spare time,” the Drive-By Truckers.

Hood’s solo effort is a collection of songs that he’s written over the past 20 years, so at first glance one might be tempted to call it a “best of.” But that’s not really true, because during all of that time, Hood’s been in bands, contributing what one would assume was his best work. On the other hand, by no means could these songs be considered “rejects” – in the Drive-By Truckers, Hood shares songwriting duties with his fellow band members, and even on an album as “big” as the Truckers’ last one (“Brighter Than Creation’s Dark,” a review of which is forthcoming), there are only so many slots for each writer.

In the end, how one characterizes the origin of the album is less important than the fact that, for all practical purposes, it sounds entirely fresh, entirely new. Playing the album on my computer, it is classified as “country,” but that doesn’t feel right to me. I’d call it “southern rock,” but even with that, Hood manages to cover a Todd Rundgren song (“The Range War”), and writes in the excellent liner notes that his all-time favorite album is Rundgren’s “Something/Anything.”

The album is remarkably consistent, without a single weak track. It’s always a good sign when I keep changing my mind about what I think is the best song. On some days I might say “Pollyanna” (see above), on others I might say “Belvedere” (see below), and on weekends I might say “Pride of the Yankees,” “Screwtopia,” “I Understand Now,” or one of the album’s other tracks.

Since it wasn’t easy even finding the album in the stores I searched, I’m not sure that a guy like Patterson Hood is ever going to become a big star. But, one can hope.

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