Drive-By Truckers
American Band


4.0
excellent

Review

by Sowing STAFF
October 15th, 2016 | 171 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Compelled but not defeated

So many of the problems of our time can boil down to a failure to communicate. To talk to each other. To ask the tough questions of ourselves. To open up our hearts and minds to seek a higher calling. To summon better angels, as they say. Or as the prophet Patti Smith said, ‘Love each other, Motherfuckers.’
-Patterson Hood

American Band feels like a statement album: not for the Drive-By Truckers, but for all of us. Perhaps no album released this year paints a more accurate depiction of the social and moral crises facing America during this tumultuously violent and highly contentious 2016. After all, the troubles of this nation dwell much deeper than Trump’s blinding ignorance or Hillary’s insidious corruption – there are major issues to be dealt with from east to west, rich to poor, red to blue, black to white…you to me. There’s actually never really been a time quite like this that I can recall in my twenty-nine year existence, and it has the feeling of something that our children will end up reading and writing reports about way down the line. Generally when I get that feeling it’s not a good thing, but there’s also hope as this situation unfolds that we have an unprecedented opportunity to change the course of history. To right past wrongs and treat each other as equals, all without sacrificing our security and values. Like with anything, there’s a middle ground to be occupied, and although the eleventh outing from Drive-By Truckers may reside just left of center, it’s easily the most unbiased, sensible commentary I’ve heard so far on the hysteria that’s been taking the western world by storm.

For being so politically and socially charged, American Band is not a divisive album. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Drive-By Truckers spend the majority of the time here posing down-to-earth questions that for decades we’ve either failed to answer or ignored out of convenience. They’re bold observations that aren’t necessarily comfortable to hear, but that’s what makes the record feel so appropriate right now. On ‘Surrender Under Protest’, Hood inquires about interracial violence, “Does the color really matter on the face you blame for failure?” and then continues that train of thought into ‘What It Means’, a song that begins with the line “He was running down the street when they shot him in his tracks” before expounding upon police shootings and media coverage: “It happened last weekend and it will happen again next week…they’ll spin it for the anchors on the television screen, so we can shrug and let it happen without asking what it means.” As Hood states in the album foreword, “there are conversations that my friends with black children have to have that the rest of us can take for granted and leave unsaid.” There are similarly ugly realizations about race throughout American Band that tap right into the heart of some of the most pressing social issues facing our country today.

While a good amount of this record deals with racial tension, there is still an appreciable portion of it that is more of an ode to co-founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley’s southern heritage. Some of it is rather docile, such as the quaint and unassuming ‘Sun Don’t Shine’ – a track that rolls along gently to classical piano notes and warm electric guitars. Other tracks, like ‘Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn’, cover the controversial confederate flag and what it stands for, with Hood ultimately pondering, “the baggage that you take defines the things that you become” – thus implying that you only take with you from your past what you intend to use in the future. Or, as he goes on to state in the disc pamphlet, “there were plenty of other things that we as Southerners could be proud of besides a flag that so many view as divisive and hurtful.” Despite the band’s stance with regards to what they call the “rebel flag”, it’s still very clear that they love and appreciate the long-established culture of the American south, which is apparent in everything from the vocal style to the Skynryd-esque southern rock formula that surfaces periodically within American Band.

More than anything, American Band aims to capture the issues of our time and look at them through multiple lenses. The members of this band are both southerners and (speculatively) liberals, and appear to have a firm handle on both sides of certain viewpoints that are particularly contentious right now. In fact, while so many of us are quick to label these sides of the coin as left vs. right, blue vs. red, or liberal vs. conservative, Hood, Cooley, and company offer what they call the new duality of America: urban vs. rural. Drive-By Truckers speculate a lot about this both within the album and outside of its direct context, specifically citing “gun culture” in America – what it means to someone in a big city versus what it stands for in rural country. It seems that so much of what divides us comes from a lack of understanding, and a refusal to put ourselves in the shoes of those who oppose our best interests. It’s a difficult thing to do, which is why progress always seems to be so slow to unravel. The best thing we can do for others, and ourselves, is to truly hear each other out. Drive-By Truckers raise a lot of interesting points here that they openly admit they have no answers to, but realizing there is a problem is always the first step. As ‘Surrender Under Protest’ goes, “Compelled but not defeated.” We’re not at the end of our rope as a nation, but the time to act is now.

Outside my mind I wander freely past the rocky shore
Waves crash against the banks where Lewis and Clark explored
We’re all standing in the shadows of our noblest intentions of something more
Than being shot in a classroom in Oregon



s
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user ratings (75)
3.8
excellent
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Sowing
Moderator
October 15th 2016


43997 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Admittedly my first experience with Drive-By Truckers, but it was a good one. You can say that ruins my credibility when reviewing them, but whatever. This was only halfway about the music anyway.



"What It Means":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY0qOCUy27Q





FullOfSounds
October 15th 2016


15821 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Excited af to finally check this out

ashcrash9
Contributing Reviewer
October 15th 2016


3356 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Wonderful review for this, Sowing. Sums up my thoughts perfectly. Even if this isn't musically everyone's thing, this is probably one of the year's (if not the decade's) most important releases to hear given its resonant social context.

SandwichBubble
October 15th 2016


13796 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Well-deserved "4.2 excellent" rating. And really good review.



Edit: 4.1, still pretty good.

Sowing
Moderator
October 15th 2016


43997 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks all. My 3 favorite tracks from this so far are (1) What It Means, (2) Surrender Under Protest, and (3) Once They Banned Imagine



Album is still kinda unfolding though, I feel like a lot of the mellower/southern tracks could still grow a lot on me.

DoofusWainwright
October 15th 2016


19991 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review - the thing I feel is not only does the title 'American Band' refer to the politics of America but also the music, particularly the music of protest.



This album tips its hat to all the classics like Dylan, Young, Springsteen, Husker Du, R.E.M and Wilco, but still has an urgency about it that feels current.

DoofusWainwright
October 15th 2016


19991 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The first four songs are unstoppable, my favourite opening run of tracks in 2016

Sowing
Moderator
October 15th 2016


43997 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah Ramon Casiano is a great one too



There's not a bad song across the length of the runtime just some that make better talking points than others for a review

Danred97
October 15th 2016


2544 Comments


This doesn't necessarily sound like my thing, but you make such a good case for it, I feel compelled to check it out.

theBoneyKing
October 15th 2016


24517 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Damn, wasn't expecting this. Great job though as usual Sowing. I may still review this myself, particularly since I have more experience with the band, who are one of my favorites.

theBoneyKing
October 15th 2016


24517 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

One thing though. While this album's strength is in an emotional presentation of political issues rather than taking an overly proselytizing or accusing tone, speaking as a close follower of this band, I can tell you that these guys are about as far left as you can get, so to call this "just left of center" is inaccurate, and you definitely do not need the "speculatively" qualifier when saying they're liberals. :-]

Sowing
Moderator
October 15th 2016


43997 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Good to know lol. First time listener. :-)

theBoneyKing
October 15th 2016


24517 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

No problem, I'm just happy to see people digging the Truckers!

theBoneyKing
October 15th 2016


24517 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Admittedly I can see how it'd be confusing - these guys are and always have been southern and liberal and very proud of both. Their subversion of southern stereotypes while at the same time embracing much of the culture is one of the most fascinating parts of their music.

RadicalEd
October 16th 2016


9546 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is not my usual kind of thing, but I'ts really good.

DoofusWainwright
October 16th 2016


19991 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Keeps on growing on me

Sowing
Moderator
October 16th 2016


43997 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

^Same here. Not a bad song on the record and certain ones are really great.

SharkTooth
October 16th 2016


14922 Comments


Sweet! New Drive-By Druckers!

SharkTooth
October 16th 2016


14922 Comments


Also Sowing, since this is your first DBT album, I highly encourage you to check Southern Rock Opera. That album is a masterpiece.

theBoneyKing
October 16th 2016


24517 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Another correction Sowing: Surrender Under Protest is a Cooley song, not a Hood song, as you say in the second paragraph. :-]



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