Music Review: 'American Band,' Drive-By Truckers

Oct 4, 2016
Originally published on October 5, 2016 7:44 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The rock band Drive-By Truckers has been making music for 20 years now, and for most of that time, the group, which is from Athens, Ga., has explored the meaning of Southern identity. That happened on albums like "The Dirty South" and "Southern Rock Opera."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUTHERN THING")

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) Ain't about my pistol, ain't about my boots, ain't about no northern drives, ain't about my Southern roots.

CORNISH: Drive-By Truckers just released its 11th album. It's called "American Band." Reviewer Tom Moon has been listening. He says the band is doing much more in this new record than looking beyond the South.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IT MEANS")

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) He was running down the street when they shot him in his tracks. 'Bout the only thing agreed upon was he ain't coming back.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Drive-By Truckers is known for being a little bit ornery. With this set of pointed, topical songs, they broaden that emotional range. In this one about police killing young African-American men, they come across as riled up and reflective all at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IT MEANS")

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) And when they turned him over, they were surprised there was no gun. I mean he must have done something, or else why would he have run? And they'll spin it for the anchors on the television screens. We can shrug and let it happen without asking what it means. What it...

MOON: The band has two songwriters, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. They write independently. And when they began talking about this record, they discovered they were both going directly at issues that hovered over the presidential campaign - race, income inequality, the treatment of veterans, immigration and gun violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUNS OF UMPQUA")

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) Now I'm losing shares in some manic mode to barricade the doors. As my heart rate surges on adrenaline and nerves, I feel I've been here before. I made it back from hell's attack in some distant, bloody war only to stare downhill back home.

MOON: There's little ambiguity in these songs. They're blunt in the tradition of Neil Young. And the conviction goes beyond the messages. Everything is delivered with scalding intensity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURRENDER UNDER PROTEST")

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) Does the color really matter on the face you blame for failure, on the shaming for the battle's losing cause if the victims and aggressors just remain each other's others and the instigators never fight their own?

MOON: Patterson Hood says he's not into finger-wagging protest songs. But he learned from his father, who played bass with The Staple Singers during that group's heyday, about how music can get people thinking and ultimately become a catalyst for change. These tightly-wound and well-timed songs aspire to that kind of transformation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KINKY HYPOCRITES")

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) We fought our losing battles, and we held on to our ways. And we talk of how we left behind our better days.

CORNISH: The latest from Drive-By Truckers is called "American Band." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KINKY HYPOCRITES")

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) Bashed our heads against the future of our South, bashed our heads against the future of our South. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.