Music Reviews
Brighter Than Creation's Dark

Drive-By Truckers Brighter Than Creation's Dark

(New West) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

For me, country rock has always been an acquired taste. Sure, as a guitar player, I’ve been able to approach it from a musician’s appreciation of chops in whatever form they present themselves, because country music prizes technical ability almost as much as songwriting and lesser players simply don’t cut it. So I could always dig small doses of Skynrd or the Allmans even though my big city upbringing precluded me from really “getting” the country sensibility. And while I’ve grown to appreciate its straightforward simplicity, and its historical avatars like Hank Williams and George Jones, I still cannot make myself get off on the Eagles, no matter how hard I try.

I say all this because the new Drive-By Truckers album is pretty terrific, and I’ll probably never listen to it ever again. While I may not love it, I’ve heard enough country rock in my day to know when someone is doing it exactly right, and the Truckers have it nailed. The lyrics are funny, direct and pleasantly ironic (“Bob ain’t light in the loafers/he might kneel but he never bends over”). The vocals have the confidence and appeal of a band that’s been gigging in honky-tonks for 20 years. The guitar parts are uniformly excellent. And the songs are hummable, varied and delivered with unflagging energy. In short, everything works, and you’d have to be Bin Laden to not get a kick out of the all-American gusto dripping from every track on this record.

I probably don’t know enough about the genre to say this, but the lyrics in particular strike me as atypically witty and clever. Self-Destructive Zones kicks off with “It was 1990 give or take I can’t remember”, sounding like the Marshall Tucker Band effectively bitching about grunge rock. And I can’t help laughing when in the middle of the otherwise tense, anti-drug song You and Your Crystal Meth, singer Patterson Hood proclaims “I used to love you, now you suck”. That pretty much sums it up. That kind of straight shooting is encapsulated right in the title of their song about an alcoholic father, Daddy Needs a Drink. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at these lines, which creates a wonderful and refreshing juxtaposition. Some of that tension is missing from the anti-war songs; The Man I Shot, about the men struggling with the demons of war, and The Home Front, about the women left behind. These songs are played straight and serious and suffer not only from containing hackneyed sentiments, but also from a woeful lack of irony, elsewhere present in abundance. The one protest song that really works is Ghost To Most, mainly because it’s infinitely more elliptical and contains wonderfully evocative lines like “It seems to me you’d have to have a hole in your own/to point your finger at somebody else’s sheet”.

Even if this type of thing isn’t your bag, it’s really pretty irresistible and is worth a shot. You might even be converted, only to find that the 70’s offer a whole decade of shit-kickin’ to revel in.