Drive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation's Dark

Even devoted DBT fans may find the Alabama/Athens rockers' eighth album frustrating, or long-winded at the very least. It's 19 mostly acoustic, down-tempo songs spread over 75 dour, occasionally thrilling, minutes. Their trademark hard 'n' heavy chargers are largely confined to "The Righteous Path," "Self Destructive Zones" and "That Man I Shot," the humor to "Bob" and "3 Dimes Down." Domestic ills get their due on "Daddy Needs a Drink," as does touring monotony in "The Opening Act," and addictions run amok in "You and Your Crystal Meth." Everybody smiling yet? Didn't think so. New guitarist John Neff, whose ghostly steel ranks among BTCD's most pervasive leitmotifs, makes this year's loss of Jason Isbell to a solo career a lot easier to swallow, while the role of third Trucker songwriter now falls to bassist and Isbell's estranged wife Shonna Tucker. (How Southern is that?) Her Stonesy "Home Field Advantage" is a definite keeper, while cofounders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley each turn in great songs ("A Ghost to Most") and some that sound half-finished ("Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife"). "Goode's Field Road," Hood's diary of a man en route to meet his doom, has the same brooding R&B grind the Truckers used behind Bettye LaVette on last year's The Scene of the Crime, while Cooley further hones his fine country chops on twin jewels "Lisa's Birthday" and "Perfect Timing." Overall, BTCD sounds like the Truckers are regrouping — and indeed they are — but that's nothing their rigorous touring schedule can't cure. And album No. 9 should be really killer.

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