Over the past three years, the Alabama-bred, Athens, Georgia-based Drive By Truckers have become something like the Atlanta Braves of roots rock. As the Braves were until recently known for their outstanding core of starting pitchers, so the Truckers are led by a trio of singing guitarists. There's Patterson Hood, who, as the unofficial official front man and most individually famous of the three, could be seen as the Greg Maddux of the bunch. Mike Cooley paints corners, throws a mean breaking ball and can always come up with the money line in the clutch -- let's call him the Tom Glavine. Newcomer Jason Isbell came along and saved the day at a vital time for the band -- the personal and professional mayhem after the band scaled new heights following Southern Rock Opera -- so let's call this fireman the John Smoltz of this bunch.
And all three are throwing gas on this album, as they delve into the legends of the past and explore the godforsaken backwaters of the underemployed, cancer-ridden post-Wal-Mart New South. Cooley's jangly, mid-tempo rocker "Carl Perkins' Cadillac" would be a hit in a better world, Hood's "Tornadoes" turns your sky pea-green with spookiness, and Isbell's closer, "Goddamn Lonely Love," ends the album on just the right elegiac note. Elsewhere, in a three-song suite, Cooley and Hood take the side of the gamblers, pimps and moonshiners Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser of Walking Tall legend disrupted in such a right unneighborly fashion. (In the Truckers' view, Talking Tall might have been a better title for the Pusser flicks.)
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If last year's Decoration Day was about the choices poor Southern folk made and their consequences, then The Dirty South is about not having any choices to make at all. In "Puttin' People on the Moon," you've got hungry kids, so you peddle blow. You leave your farm and head for "The Sands of Iwo Jima" because Uncle Sam tells you you've got to go. In "Cottonseed," you're a redneck Mafioso, and your local county judge develops a conscience, so you've got to put him in a hole in the ground. As Hood says in the liner notes, "we mean business and it ain't personal." Come to think of it, that's kind of the approach the Braves have always taken too, especially when it comes to dispatching the Astros in the playoffs.