Friday, April 21, 2006

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: A TRUCKERS BLESSING

A version of this appeared in The Santa Fe New MexicanApril 21, 2006

Everybody’s favorite Southern rockers (well, at least mine), The Drive-By Truckers, for the last several albums have created kudzu-covered musical landscapes populated by Southern characters both famous — Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Wallace, Buford Pusser — and small-time farmers, gamblers, unknown stockcar racers, bootleggers, local losers. While singing with pride about the “Southern Thing” and gleefully playing with and adding to the region’s mythology, any pride or sentimentality about Southern living you might detect in a Truckers song is countered by grim realism. Poverty, ignorance, corruption, and racism hang like Spanish moss in the Truckers’ songbook.

However, on the Truckers’ new CD, A Blessing and a Curse, the band, lyrically at least, seems to have crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

No, the sound hasn’t drastically changed. They’ve still got their three-guitar, three-singer, three-songwriter front line (Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell). They still play it loud and, when called for, can play it awful purty. And they’re still following the advice of Isbell’s dad in the song “Outfit” (“Don’t sing in no fake British accent.”)

But the pure Southern themes from the previous albums are missing. The songs on A Blessing and a Curse are more universal, not pinned to any geography. Less grits, but no less gritty. The Truckers still sing of debauchery, despair, decay, and domestic misery. But heck, even Yankees experience these things.

Of course it would be impossible to completely de-Dixify these guys. Cooley’s deep Alabama drawl, for instance, is still a powerful force.

And even when they’re rocking their hardest, the music is still soaked in Allman/Skynyrd roar with blues and country undercurrents. And ain’t that what we love about the South?As always, the Truckers have filled their album with terrific songs. As the album starts, right in the middle of an ugly lover’s spat in Hood’s song “Feb. 14,” a listener almost feels like he’s got to duck to avoid being hit by a flying object.


“Flowers flying cross the room/Vases smashed against the floor. Said I’d rather be alone/Take your chocolates and go home.”

This is followed by a Stones-y Cooley song called “Gravity’s Gone.” It’s about a soul gone adrift in the champagne/cocaine world of rock ’n’ roll excess.

That world grows even more desperate on Hood’s “Aftermath USA,” which has a similar Exile on Main Street feel — and is sung with a similar wicked grin. The narrator wakes up to find his home — and by implication, his world — in shambles.



“There were beer bottles in the kitchen/And broken glass on the floor … Crystal meth in the bathtub/Blood splattered in my sink/Laying around in the aftermath/It’s all worse than you think.”
In addition to these rockers, A Blessing and a Curse contains some of the prettiest songs the Truckers have ever recorded.

“Little Bonnie,” written and sung by Hood, is the story of a child who dies and the guilt her father feels.

“My grandma said she would keep her in the mornings/A swollen angel who never would complain/She’d read her stories about little girls and princesses/Whose daddies don’t feel punished for what heaven takes away.”
The melody of Cooley’s “Space City,” played quietly on an acoustic guitar, is devastating in its sad beauty. But not nearly as devastating as the story it tells.

The song is about a man grieving at the grave of a lost love with a heart full of regrets at the way he treated her.

“My hands are as good to me as they’ve ever been/And I ain’t ashamed of anything my hands ever did/But sometimes the words I used were as hard as my fist/She had the strength of a man and the heart of a child I guess.”
Blessing ends with a song in which Hood gets very serious, talking to a troubled friend. A spacey Jerry Garcia-like steel guitar (actually it’s former Trucker John Neff) plays in the background as Hood says, “I was 27 when I figured out that blowing my brains out wasn’t the answer.” (Ah, that magic age of 27. Remember Kurt Cobain’s mother’s reaction when her son committed suicide at that age? “I told him not to join that stupid club,” she said, referring to Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison, all of whom were 27 when they died.)


“So I decided maybe I should find a way to make this world work out for me, No, it’s a wonderful world, if you can put aside the sadness/And hang on to every ounce of beauty upon you/Better take the time to know it, there ain’t no way around it/If you feel anything at all.”
The last verse concludes with Hood declaring, “It’s great to be alive,” but the refrain of the song warns, “Gonna be a world of hurt/Gonna be a world of hurt/Gonna be a world of hurt …”

I just love this damned band. It’s great to be alive!

Concerts: The Drive-By Truckers appear with Son Volt and former Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood at El Rey Theater, 622 Central Ave. S.W., in Albuquerque, on April 30. Tickets are $25 in advance, available at Bookworks and Natural Sound in Albuquerque, online at www.abqmusic.com, Tickets Santa Fe and by phone from the Lensic Box Office at 988-1234. It’s $30 at the door.

Unfortunately the Truckers won’t be at Son Volt’s Santa Fe show the night before. But The Handsome Family will be. Plus, it’s at the ever-bitchen Club Alegría on Agua Fría Road. Tickets are $23 and available through Tickets Santa Fe.

1 comment:

  1. It's great to be alive, indeed ... this record took a long time to grow on me, but now I love it .. it's one of their best in a long, great career

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Tales of Tobacco Road

I was born in a dump / Mama died and my daddy go drunk... These are the first words of a song that became one of the most cover...