Written by James Killen
The Drive-By Truckers put out a thematic rock and roll classic last year and called it “American Band”. Patterson Hood and, to a lesser degree, Mike Cooley, set out to make a series of statements about the state of the union on this disc all to the sounds of some rousing guitar work.
It kicks off with “Ramon Casiano” about a border agent that shot a Mexican citizen in 1931 just outside of El Paso. He ran a business managing what came and went across the border afterwards and ended up starting the NRA on the political path that it has taken today.
The second track “Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn” about how so many Southern folks cling to the Confederate flag even though it represents a hurtful time in history for black American citizens.
“Surrender Under Protest”, the first Mike Cooley song, pays a defiant tribute to those that have fought racial prejudice since the end of the civil war. The song calls for peace in the wake of 150 years of civil conflict that floats just below the surface of our society.
Patterson Hood wrote “Guns of Umpqua” about a mass shooting at a small Oregon college. The tone is tongue in cheek low key and calm about a violent tragedy to express how these attacks have become so commonplace that it hardly stops our daily routines anymore.
“Filthy and Fried” is Mike Cooley’s statement about the youth of America running the streets, trying to find life’s meaning in drugs, sex, and alcohol. He even stresses the point that young ladies are as proud of their sexual exploits as the young men.
The tempo slows again for “Sun Don’t Shine” as an anthem to depression and how the weather empathizes with Hood’s moods when he’s down. “Kinky Hypocrite” talks about how many in the religious right often indulge in the very activities that they condemn.
As a history lover and a proud member of the Scots-Irish Americans, “Ever South” holds a special place for me in this collection of compositions. It traces the Celtic migration across America through the Appalachians and on across the South and on to the rest of country.
“What It Means” is Patterson Hood’s discussion of the events related to the black lives matter movement and how it divides America along racial boundaries once again. He stresses how the total futility of the hate and division escapes all reason for Hood. The guitar solo stands out to emphasize the message on this one.
Mike Cooley wins the award for irony with “Once They Banned Imagine”. It’s a reference to when Clear Channel banned John Lennon’s “Imagine” from airplay on their network. The song is played with a Country Western piano melody further stressing irony. The irony was that they refused to play a song about universal love and acceptance. One can’t decide if those responsible for the ban hated love or loved hate.
“Baggage” is about Robin Williams’ suicide and how Patterson Hood related to the tribulations of the depression that finally overcame Williams. He addresses the lack of understanding that society has regarding mental illness.
This CD might very well be the most direct address to the state of American society to have come out in 2016. The guitar work is unfettered and classic throughout the album and the music stands on its own without the politics and social commentary. It’s sure to satisfy the Southern rockers that have followed the Truckers over the past two decades. The lyrics are the icing on this cake.