Review Summary: Alabama Alt-Country heavy weights power through 15 of their best tracks on 2003 release.
“Hell no, I ain’t happy”
This is the lament of Patterson Hood, southern man and story-telling virtuoso, and even after the first few track’s of his band, Drive-By Truckers’ 2003 release, Decoration Day, it’s pretty fuc
king clear that he means every word in that sentence. The album opens with a poignant ode to life on the road, and in the cell, for an incestuous brother-sister crime duo (The Deeper In), and follows that up with a startlingly heavy rant called Sinkhole. And about as much as these two tracks don’t have in common is about how much I love them (if that makes any sense). The Deeper In is damaging to say the least (incest ffs) but that doesn’t take away from the sheer beauty of it all. Hood, one of the band’s 3 singer/guitarists, sings in a smoke-ravaged tenor to a slow waltz of a southern rock jam,
By the time you were born there were four other siblings
with your Mama awaiting your Daddy in jail
Your oldest brother was away at a home
and You didn’t meet him til you was nineteen years old
Old enough to know better, old enough to know better
but you took to his jaw line and long sandy hair
How he made you feel like none off the others
and the way he looked at you touched you deep down in there.
Hood is a fantastic lyricist, no lie. He proved himself again and again on Southern Rock Opera, but from the second Sinkhole begins its obvious this is a whole new animal, a horse of a different color if you will. Sinkhole is smart, grim, polarizing and mad as all hell. Patterson lets fly a story of biblical proportions, a tale of a banker scorned and the house he wants to claim. Thing is this is the guy that owns the house
I’ve always been a religious man, I ‘ve always been a religious man
but I met the banker and it felt like sin, he turned my bailout down
The Banker Man, he let into me, let into me, let into me
The Banker Man, he let into me and spread my name around
He thinks I ain’t got a lick of sense cause I talk slow and my money’s spent
Now, I ain’t the type to hold it against, but he better stay off my farm
Cause it was my Daddy’s and his Daddy’s before
and his Daddy’s before and his Daddy’s before
Five generations and an unlocked door and a loaded burglar alarm
. And Patterson delivers it brilliant and deadpan, angry and tack-sharp. I don’t like to quote too many lyrics in these things, but boy is this a doosey.
Like to invite him for some pot roast beef and mashed potatoes and sweet tea
follow it up with some banana pudding and a walk around the farm
Show him the view from McGee Town Hill
Let him stand in my shoes and see how it feels
to lose the last thing on earth that’s real
I’d rather lose my legs and arms
Bury his body in the old sink hole Bury his body in the old sink hole
Bury his body in the old sink hole under cold November sky
Then damned if I wouldn’t go to church on Sunday
Damned if I wouldn’t go to church on Sunday
Damned if I wouldn’t go to church on Sunday
and look the Preacher in the eye.
But I guess now that I’m a page into this thing, I should probably introduce you to [DBT’s other frontmen] Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell. Isbell (no longer with the Truckers) has a voice like butter (far different from the other two singers) and a penchant for lyrics of the softer variety. His cosmopolitan-country-classic Outfit is nearly the best attempt at a radio song DBT have in them. If clear channel had some sense, Cooley could be crooning between the best of them (or the worst, depending on how you feel about Tim McGraw and Tobey Keith). Outfit is far from the sinister Sinkhole, but it retains a proud southern tone, while remaining sharp and (for lack of a better word) emotional.
Then there’s Mike Cooley, the Truckers’ resident gravel voiced titan. Every word he spews sounds like it was chewed up and spit out by that big guy in the Gooneys, and his songs always have a slightly more powerful feel that Patterson’s tend to lack. That being said, nothing can keep Loaded Gun in the Closest from being the depressing, emotional ride it is, or Marry Me, the distinctly Truckers-esque love song it is. But Decoration Day is a Patterson Hood album to the bone. No doubt about it. And as well as that (perhaps even because of that) it’s a pretty ***ing great album as well. It hits all the bases on the way around the diamond and then some. The bluesy Your Daddy Hates Me cements DBT in the hall of fame for Alabama rock bands, an epic, slightly sinister ascension into the closing sequence of a relationship that, from that sound of it, could have gone a bit better. Hood takes the cake for his performance, and the song dissolves into a slightly dissonant shred fest just before the seven minute mark. And while some songs are poignant odes to southern bliss, some of them are just rock. Careless is one of them, mixing Hood’s sinister intentions with his Punk Rock background, leaving a result slightly akin to the thought of Sonic Youth covering Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Decoration Day proves the Truckers as one of the grimmest Alt-Country bands in the land, as well as damn near the loudest. With its devastating three-guitar-attack and a solid (if less notable) rhythm section to back it up, DBT make cross-breeding genres seem easy. Combining equal parts Punk Rock grit, Southern Rock power and Country twang like it was just in a day’s work. You could consider the band a workingman’s Wilco, a thinking man’s Skynyrd, or even a Southern Man’s At the Drive, but in the end, Drive-By Truckers just are what they are. Decoration Day is some of their best work, full of bluesy guitar work and humable hooks, a truly well rounded example of the Alabama based band’s sheer might.