The Drive-By Truckers excellent new album Go-Go Boots is just the latest chapter in the story of a truly great American rock’n’roll band. Even aside from their significant catalog, Go-Go Boots stands on its own as a testament to the melting pot of Americana, where blue-eyed soul and driving rock tunes chug along next to murder ballads and porch-front ditties.
For the most part, the two faces on either side of the DBT’s coin are primary singer/songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, one with a high raspy voice and the other a smooth baritone. Such is the duality of the Truckers thing. As hard as they rock in the live setting (and many times on record as well), they are usually at their best on those quiet or mid-tempo moments that just sound better when you turn them up loud. While most songs follow some variation of a verse-chorus, verse-chorus-bridge pattern, these guys write songs more like man-wife, betrayal-murder-trial. Or sometimes sex-booze-rock-roll.
All kinds of real people populate Drive-By Truckers songs. “My aunt’s praisin’ Palin, my niece loves Obama,” Hood sings at one point; more duality. There are children and old people. Reverends and arsonists. There’s bound to be a struggle, either physical or internal. Oftentimes both. Did I mention there always seems to be some sort of trial at the end? Their albums tend to be littered with more body bags than an Ice-T or N.W.A. album from back in the day. The Devil likes to show up, sometimes by name and other times in the form of greed, violence, alcohol, or temptation. Jesus is usually good for a few cameo appearances as well. And for all the trouble and recklessness, there’s always plenty of redemption and salvation.
The last few albums have missed the considerable songwriting talents of Jason Isbell, who departed for a solo career. Those couple of song slots per album are now usually filled by bassist Shonna Tucker, who used to be married to Isbell. The female vocal provides a feels-like-family balance (once again, the duality of the Truckers thing), even if it breaks up the Cooley-Hood momentum with tracks that sometimes still feel slightly out of place on a DBT record.
There’s no need for a track-by-track description of this album. The production is raw, rootsy and live, but crisp. It’s filled with signature tunes that will stand among the best representatives of Hood’s and Cooley’s styles. I will single out “Used To Be a Cop” for its sheer bad-assery. Several other standout tracks by Hood continue to cement him as a legitimate blend of Neil Young-Springsteen-Petty. Easily one of the best songwriters of this generation, hiding right under our noses, ignored by a Bieber-Gaga pop culture media. Such is the duality of the Truckers thing.