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Decade starts strong for Drive-By Truckers

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Drive-By Truckers show themselved to once again be great storytellers on "The Big To-Do."
For nearly a decade now, when the Drive-By Truckers released an album, it's been time to listen.

From 2001's "Southern Rock Opera" up through 2008's "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" and even last year's rarities collection "The Fine Print," DBT released six studio albums during the '00s. Guided by the unflinching songwriting of Patterson Hood, each one has been a truthful, if dark, look at life in the American south, and indeed at American life in general.

The new decade hasn't changed a thing. "The Big To-Do," the groups first release on ATO records, fits right in there. Hood and fellow singer-songwriters Mike Cooley and Shonna Tucker have given us another fine collection to enjoy.

While the prolific Hood wrote and sang eight of the record's 13 tracks, the band members (and this critic) all seem to agree the best song on the collection is Cooley's "Birthday Boy." It's a beautiful, sad song, perfectly suited to Cooley's solemn, earnest vocals.

Only after the band had cut 25 songs and chosen 12 for the record did Cooley craft this gem. The number moved to 13.

Tucker also continues in her emergence as a voice in the band. This is the second Truckers album to feature the bassist as the band's third lead vocalist. "(It's Gonna Be) I Told You So" and the haunting "You Got Another" bring a softer touch the album otherwise lacks.

With a songwriter like Hood, his best contributions are hard to pick, but "The Fourth Night of My Drinking" is vintage Hood tragedy. "Santa Fe" is one of the album's best from a purely musical standpoint.

"The Wig He Made Her Wear" recounts the story of a trial Hood watched on Court TV. It displays his ability to take inspiration from just about anything and turn it into a fine piece of music.

It's a testament to this band's work that this could be one of the top albums of the year, yet may not even crack the podium in their list of top albums. Most bands can hope for a prime of three or four years, but the Truckers have been consistently producing top-notch albums for a decade now.

They display an uncanny ability to keep their sound fresh while never abandoning what makes them the Drive-By Truckers. Until further notice, everything this band produces is a must-have.

My spin: A-

"The Big To-Do," released Tuesday, is the Drive-By Truckers being the Drive-By Truckers: that is to say, it's really good. Buy this album. It's worth owning on CD.

The artwork by Wes Freed is intriguing and amusing. There are complete lyrics and a nice account of the album and its inspirations by Hood. The man is pretty well an open book, so his liner notes are way more illuminating than anything a critic or publicist could say about the album.

For anyone insisting on downloading, the whole thing is worth having. DBT albums are worth the entire experience, start to finish. Starting points can be the songs I mentioned above, but to not listen to the entire album is really missing out.

Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do

Released: March 16 on ATO Records

Drive-By Truckers are: Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood, Brad Morgan, Shonna Tucker, John Neff, Jay Gonzalez

Other players: The Bottom Feeders, David Bare

Producer: David Barbe

Learn more: www.drivebytruckers.com or www.atorecords.com

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