40 Watt Club
285 W Washington
Athens, GA 30601
9:00 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013
Drive By Truckers
It seems a paradox that while the Drive-By Truckers' sound is so unique; it is still part of a greater and larger family. Some of the other greats - particularly in the South - were spawned from their culture, while others came from the deeper rootstock of the southern landscape itself. Of course in the long run the landscape has a significant say in what kind of culture develops; it's all tangled together, all connected, and everything shares bits and strands of those fragments, again like a pastiche of random and beautiful genomes. Each of the three vocalists - Cooley, Patterson, Shonna - is distinct; each aches in its own way with sometimes gravelly and other times smooth sweet wistful broken-glass hurt and yearning and reluctant. Patterson's songs, of course are almost always willing, in the great Southern tradition, to take on the Man - or anyone else - as are Cooley's, when the cause is big and just.
Their sound - so distinctly theirs - comes nonetheless from history and the past. It's all a big tangled beautiful mess, and it all comes out of Muscle Shoals, where, as Patterson's father, legendary bassist David Hood, astutely notes, the South once did something right with respect to race relations, once-upon-a-time, and when it most mattered.
In their documentary, The Secret to a Happy Ending, Patterson speaks of the South's "duality thing." Visually, the documentary shows a symbolism of this duality nicely: the fecund green clamor of summer (play it loud), insects shrilling high in the canopy as if giving voice to a fever in the land that may or may not be a madness; and in winter, the bare raw limbs, the signature of a thing - things - going away. Similarly, the Truckers, while walking on the dark side of the street in their songs, seem, despite it all, unable to avoid stumbling into cathedrals and columns of light, as in Mercy Buckets.
A little about Go-Go Boots: it doesn't make a lot of sense for me to wax long about what you're going to hear. The incantatory, almost child-like refrain of clamant happiness, "I do believe/I do believe," with its big-band rock-chord super-anthem kicking in, then - a song about family, and the memory of being loved - a rock song about one's grandmother! - sets the tone for all that is to follow, fireplace poker bludgeoning be damned.
You hear the bona fide country in Cooley's Cartoon Gold, complete with rambling banjo run, and the undefinable ache and wonder at life, in the vocals - and you hear the I've-been-done-wrong-by-life-bit-am-still-here, still-hurting, hurting-so-good slowing- down soul sound.
So many of the songs on this album will end up being favorites, and anyway, it's not fair to say one song's better than any other - but damn, the first Eddie Hinton song on this album - Everybody Needs Love - is awfully fine. The Truckers hardly ever cover anyone else's songs, but here they've chosen two by their late friend, Hinton. This is a big deal and when you hear the two songs you'll understand what a good idea it is. You'll also see how directly their country-soul sound resonates with his.
What is country-soul? The glib description, "You can't pin it down but you know it when you hear it," isn't very satisfying. It's not enough to say it's funky, or has "that slow steady soul beat, that drive." It's not enough, technically, to say it places John Neff's pedal steel with Jay Gonzalez' B-3 and piano, or, on other songs, his Wurlitzer - but that's true enough, too. Maybe the best way to understand what country-soul is is to listen to Everybody Needs Love again. It's got a great vocal reach - a beautiful, no-holds-barred straining greatness - mixed with the Memphis backside style of drumming-compliments of Brad Morgan - that Al Jackson made famous on Wilson Pickett's Midnight Hour. Here, it's perfectly in sync with the story, and the mood, the message. It's got the great back-up chorus coming in, the piano and Hammond B-3 assuming greater authority, the farther into the song you go. We could be talking about genetic strands being inlaid, so deeply and intensely does this sound take over a listener. After only a couple of playings, it seems like the song inhabits you, has always been in you. This is what constitutes a classic. $30.00