Monday, February 28, 2011

Drive By Truckers: Go Go Boots

It’d be wrong to call the Drive By Trucker’s last album, The Big To Do a disappointment. It was filled with some fine songs. But it was uneven, a lopsided grasp at mainstream success tied up in a few singles upon which everything was bet. It was the first Drive By Truckers album since A Blessing And A Curse that I found to be anything less then compulsively listenable.

Go Go Boots thankfully returns the band to that compulsive level. It’s hard to say what makes the album feel so different. Much of it after all was written and recorded in the same session as The Big To Do. Yet from the opening track the haunting elliptical “I Do Believe” Go Go Boots does feel like a much different beast, more focused less determined to impress. Like the best Trucker’s albums it simply acts as a stage for three of the best song writers in modern rock or country to do what they do best, without ever feeling like one is crowding the others off.

Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Shoanna Tucker all get ample room to shine in their assorted tracks. Hood provides some more of his haunting story songs, the kind that make him sound like the heir to Nebraska era Springsteen. "Ray’s Automatic Weapon, Used To Be A Cop and The Fireplace Poker" all impress with their scope. But it’s The Thanksgiving Filter that really impresses me, for the resemblance it bears to the novelty songs that started The Trucker’s career yet it's written with a maturity and skill that only fifteen years of song writing can provide. Compare it with something like Zoloft and you can see the evolution of an artist.

Mike Cooley provides a crop of wry, laconic songs, which as always turn unexpectedly moving with his quavering voice. Only Shonna Tucker’s songs compare disfavorably to those on Big To Do. Not that they’re bad songs by any means. As always Tucker proves herself one of the best vocalists in country, able to get a metric tone of pain in her voice. But that’s all she gets to do on this record. Big To Do let her cut loose and have a little fun, better showing the versatility she has.

There are a couple of bum tracks but they’re few and far between. Really the only out and out stinker is the monotonous Everybody Needs Love and no matter how you slice it that’s a hell of an average.

Bands that can remain creative and vital after twelve albums are rare. Bands that leave you hungry for more after said same, are damn near non existent. With Go Go Boots The Truckers once more prove they are both


Mark Kardwell said...

And it's certainly got a better cover.

Andrew said...

A friend of mine just saw them live the other night in Chicago....
He said they blew his mind.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Mark: I don't know I kinda liked The Big To Do's cover.

@ Andrew Green: Without a doubt best live show I've ever seen. I was nearly killed on my way there and it was totally worth it.

But that's another story...

Troy Olson said...

I've attempted to get my friends to listen to Drive-By Truckers and have failed -- I think they can't get past the name or something. I've only gotten into them in the last 2 years or so, but they've quickly jumped to the top of my mind when I list my current favorite bands.

I'm amazed at how prolific they are and that just about all of it listenable. I'll go along with the "eh" nature of The Big To Do. Haven't listened to Go Go Boots yet, but am about to give it a go (I had forgotten it was released until I read your review). Sounds promising.

Bryce Wilson said...

My experience exactly. ButoOnce you start listening to them you don't stop.

Drop back by when you give it a listen. I'd like to know what you think.

Troy Olson said...

Listened to it a few times the last day and a are my thoughts.

Hood's work is always my favorite (I envision him as the reincarnation of Ronnie Van Zant). I can do without the opener, even as it does get things of to a fast paced note, but "Go Go Boots" is a great song that typifies the style that Hood's music excels at -- a mix of country storytelling, religion, aggressive, reckless youth, and murder. "Ray's Automatic Weapon" is another fantastic story that Hood tells. I do like when he uses the more gutteral, lower register for a song to get across the desolate nature of it ("Tornadoes", from The Dirty South is a favorite of this style). He changes it up with the much more soulful "Everybody Needs Love," a nice break from the murder and depression of the previous songs. "Assholes" and "The Thanksgiving Filter" are fun songs that actually sounds all too autobiographical for Hood :) "Mercy Buckets" is a glorious piece of buttrock to close out the album (and shows that 80's hair bands like Poison were surely indebted to Lynard Skynard and the like). His two longest tracks might be the best -- "Used to Be A Cop" and "The Fireplace Poker" both tell vivid and detailed stories. These are songs that implore you to listen to the lyrics, something I typically never do.

I've mentioned it in a review of a Jenny Lewis album, but I'm simply a pushover for a song with a female singer and an organ in the background. Shonna Tucker's songs have that and she has the whole Patsy Cline thing down pat, making her really stand out from other similar countrified female singers like Lewis or Neko Case -- she has a pretty voice but with a decided edge that makes you believe that she's lived through some tough shit. "Dancin' Ricky" and "Where's Eddie" are awesome.

Mike Cooley's songs, "Cartoon Gold," "Pulaski," and "The Weakest Man" provide a good change of pace from the other two singers, giving a much more folksy, 70's country ballad style to things -- it's hard not to see a definite Glen Campbell influence in his songwriting and singing style. Yet like that 70's country music, there's still room for an underlying cynicism that belies the cheery exterior. I like his songs as the breather they usually supply in the albums, but they do tend to be the ones that have the least staying power for me.

So as a whole, 14 songs and maybe 1 or 2 are "just" average. This album reminded me why DBT are so great -- the fact that you get three distinct voices on the album, yet the overall aestetic stays very unified. I'll need some more listens to see where I'd place it in their overall ouvre (probably behind my four favorites, Gangstabilly, Southern Rock Opera, The Dirty South, and Brighter Than Creation's Dark, and Murdering Oscar too, since that is a Drive-By Truckers album in spirit, at least), but slightly better than The Fine Print and lots better than The Big To Do and definitely great, great stuff.

Bryce Wilson said...

Well done Troy. I never made the Glenn Campbell connection with Cooley but damned if you're not right.

Like I said, I would have liked to hear Tucker have a bit of fun as well. And Everybody Needs Love struck me as repetitive. Other then that it was top notch. The more time I listen to "Used To Be A Cop" The more impressed I get.