Drive-By Truckers is a band’s band, plain and simple. These guys are clearly doing what they’re meant to do. With a catalog in the double-digits, they have proven that they’re more than just a bunch of rednecks who know a few guitar chords. Even after the departure of singer/guitarist Jason Isbell in 2007, unofficial bandleaders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley haven’t missed a beat. The Athens, Ga.-based band’s newest album, The Big To-Do, capitalizes on everything Drive-By Truckers does best, without sounding redundant or half-hearted.

Drive-By Truckers

The Big To-Do
ATO

Co-lead singer Patterson Hood taps into his underlying morbidity and flair for storytelling on album opener “Daddy Learned to Fly.” In the voice of a small child whose father has died, he heart-wrenchingly begins, “Daddy’s gone away and no one can tell me why / Mama’s been so sad / Since Daddy learned to fly.” Hood evokes childhood innocence, grief and understanding, all the while backed up by three larger-than-life fuzzed-out guitars and a shrill organ.

Cooley makes his first vocal appearance on the album with “Birthday Boy,” a song detailing the life of a seasoned stripper: “ ‘Which one’s the Birthday Boy?’ she said / ‘I ain’t got all night.’ ” With a provocative and humorous concept, Cooley’s deadpan baritone complements his characteristically roguish lyrics perfectly.

Adding a pair of X chromosomes to the mix and providing a nice change from Hood and Cooley’s respective drawls is bassist Shonna Tucker belting vocals on the two-minute treat “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So.” Quick but fierce, the rhythm propels the song around a swirl of slide guitars and a bass line that doesn’t relent. Tucker’s scathing frustration drips from her voice as she vents: “I’m all full up from the shit I was fed / One day it’s gonna be ‘I told you so.’ ”

One of the best qualities of the Drive-By Truckers is that they don’t put on airs. Nowadays music can seem buttoned-up, meticulously produced and painstakingly calculated. The songs on To-Do are obviously arranged well, but the Truckers don’t over-think it. Sometimes it’s infinitely refreshing to hear a band just plug in to the damn amplifiers and kick it out with explosive guitars and a drummer who’s got swing. This is a band that sounds like it was born to make rock‘n’roll — and it seems effortless.

While The Big To-Do may not be unmarked territory for the band, when a simple yet excellent rock song like “Santa Fe” strides in with a jangly acoustic guitar and steel pedal, you can’t help but think that this is what rock‘n’roll should sound like.

Drive-By Truckers proves you can’t write off simplicity as sloppiness or carelessness. Though the Truckers will probably never be in vogue, you can be sure that they will still pound out some of the most melodic and dynamic rock from the South, and have more fun than everyone else doing it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.