Monday, February 10, 2020

Drive-By Truckers - The Unraveling (ATO Records, 2020)

Over twenty years since their foundation. The Drive-By Truckers remain one of the finest straight up rock 'n' roll bands in the United States. This version of the band consists of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley on guitar and vocals, Brad Morgan on bass, Matt Patton on drums, and Jay Gonzalez on keyboards and  guitars. They have never been shy in the past about speaking out about social and political issues that have been controversial, and this album continues the trend, melding thought provoking lyrics to gritty rootsy rock music. The unusually somber opener, “Rosemary With a Bible and a Gun” incorporates subdued playing and a subtle touch of strings, as it looks at the American south, the middle and the working class, transient and on the move, name checking the great photographer William Eggleston who chronicled southern life, but where there once was hope now where is there is only unease and uncertainty as people look for the comfort of religion or even violence. "Armageddon’s Back In Town" is a blistering rocker, something you might expect for a gotcha leadoff track, with scouring guitars and powerhouse drumming. The sense of desperation in the lyrics is the key to the performance, the feeling of just barely hanging on by your fingernails and a feeling of guilt and shame for deeds done or perceived, and a foreboding sense that the other shoe is about to drop no matter what. The brutal retelling of the Parkland, Florida high school mass shooting that begins “Thoughts and Prayers” is strong medicine, and the words are spoken clearly against an acoustic almost folky / protest song backdrop. Linking the politicians who refuse gun control to flat earth theorists is witty, and the band clearly means business, although the song may lack in shading and nuance, telling politicians to stick it up their ass is gratifying, but an easy way out. “Heroin Again” is a tighter and more successful song, because members of the band past and present have either struggled with the drug or know people who have. The strong music and lyrics mesh well, referring obliquely to famous overdoses in the past, and asking the characters in the song if they knew the risk they were facing when chasing that drug's fleeting reward. Another political number, “Babies in Cages” refers to the internment camps on the US southern border where migrant children are kept in often appalling conditions. Short verses make for a pithy and effective song, laying out the frustrations and sense of hopelessness that citizens feel when they see these pictures on TV or the internet. This may not be one of their best albums, but it does deserve respect, few bands are so willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves in such a fashion and take chances with losing fans by taking such a political stance. The Unraveling - amazon.com

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