Saturday, March 12, 2011

Drive-By Truckers Score With "Go Go Boots"

Reportedly it was recorded at or around the same time, but “Go Go Boots,” the new album by the Drive-By Truckers, sounds very little like its predecessor, “The Big To Do.” In and of itself, that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, but it goes a long way towards demonstrating that the Truckers are a lot more versatile than some might expect, given their long history as a “southern band.”

It’s still amazing to me that I missed out on this band for so long – it was only a little over a year ago that I heard my first DBT album; now I own 8 and had the good fortune to see them live when I was in Chicago last year for a business trip. And after quite a few listens, there’s no doubt in my mind that the new album is better than the last, and in fact one of DBT’s best.

“The Big To Do” was a very good album, but after repeated listens there was little question that it petered out about ¾ of the way through. “Go Go Boots” is strong from first track to last – it’s more laid back in the playing, but the songwriting is as sharp as it’s ever been. Both Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have a real knack for telling short stories and setting them to music, and they’re in fine form on “Go Go Boots.” For Hood, there are several triumphs. On “Ray’s Automatic Weapon,” he tells the story of a veteran who, 40 years later, is still haunted by nightmares:

Ray I got to tell you
You got to take that gun back

Cuz these things that I been shooting at are getting all too real

Don’t want to hurt nobody, but I keep on aiming closer

Don’t think that I can keep it feeling like I feel

And on “Used To Be A Cop,” Hood delves into the mind of another haunted soul:

I used to play football but I wasn’t big enough for college
But I passed the entrance exam, first try and on my way

The Police Academy gave me the only thing I was ever good at

But my temper and the shakes and they took that thing away

On both of these songs, the band plays at a mid-tempo pace, never overwhelming the story – and Hood takes his time telling it, almost as if he were sitting around a campfire in the dead of night. It’s a haunting, haunted sound.

Cooley’s gem is the wonderful “Pulaski,” which is one of those songs that sounds like a nice little up-tempo southern ditty, right up until the point that you start to focus on the words. It’s a story about the small town girl from Pulaski, Tennessee who went to seek her fortune in L.A., and with that one sentence alone, you’ve probably figured out how the story ends.

Good ideas always start with a full glass
And just breathing here can make a girl’s nose bleed

Dreams here live and die just like a stray dog on a dirt road somewhere in Tennessee

And in the last verse, the song reveals its kinship with Elvis Presley’s “Long Black Limousine”:

The storefronts all filled up with eyeballs
As the policemen clear out the street

For a line of cars with their headlights burning

Driving slow through Pulaski, Tennessee

Those aren’t the only highlights – there’s also Hood’s “The Thanksgiving Filter,” which just might be the best rock song written about that holiday; there’s Cooley’s “Cartoon Gold,” with the great line “I’m not good with numbers/I just count on knowing when I’m high enough”; there’s two strong Eddie Hinton covers, one sung by Hood and one by Shonna Tucker; and there’s “The Fireplace Poker,” a Hood morality tale which fits in very nicely with “The Dress He Made Her Wear” from the previous album.

That this is a great band is well established. Right now, “Go Go Boots” feels like a great album; one of their best.

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