The soundtrack of a defeat
By Sergio Ariza
Angela Davis said that "in a racist society it is not enough not to be racist, we must be anti-racist" and it seems that Patterson Hood and company have decided to take this to heart. The Drive-By Truckers continue ‘the political path’ they began with American Dream and deliver their darkest and most pessimistic album to date. If their previous album, released before Trump's election, was a warning, this is the soundtrack of the defeat of a country that has seen its ideals fall apart in plain sight, with children in cages, racial hatred and mass murder so common nowadays that it barely makes the news.
Of course, you can't argue with their bravery. The band that flew the flag of Southern rock in the 21st century has become the rock group that is most clearly taking a stand against Trump, no matter how many of their followers vote for him, but without ever ceasing to be one of the best rock bands of this century. The album opens with Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun - sometimes just reading the title of a song is enough to fire the imagination. Hood continues to improve as a lyricist with a song that might have been written by Bruce Springsteen himself, with colour added by a brilliant string section.
Armageddon's Back In Town and Slow Ride Argument show their more vigorous side, with Hood and Mike Cooley's guitars flowing, with Cooley shining with his special Telecasters made by luthier Scott Baxendale and Hood, probably, with his 2002 SG Special. But the best moments of the album come with the slowest tempos, as in the song that served as the introductory single, Thoughts and Prayers, in which, with his Melody Ranch Gene Autry acoustic 48, Hood complains about how mass shootings have become so routine that many people see them as almost ordinary.
The alt-country 21st Century USA is also outstanding; it is a song that speaks of those small cities where there is not much to do, with a sound that is pure Americana, with fiddle and pedal steel, which his lyrics fit like a glove. Perhaps the most devastating song on the album is Babies In Cages, about the tragic images of immigrant children separated from their parents and put in cages. Hood is clear about this: "are we so divided that we can't at least agree this ain't the country that our granddads fought for us to be? Babies in cages " Cooley lets rip at the end of the song with a great solo that leverages the music to highlight the anger in the lyrics.
And it's clear that Cooley feels the same way as Hood; just listen to Grievance Merchants, for example, one of the two songs he wrote for the album, which shows his disgust at the rise of white supremacists in his country. The album ends with Awaiting Resurrection, a song that seeks to see beyond the pessimism of the current situation, with Hood separating the dark times we are living through from his own personal experience with the band and his family. Cooley's slide is as dark and dense as the song itself, setting to music the black clouds that loom over everyone, but in the end they seem to suggest that all this will also pass.
It is an album full of anger and frustration but the Drive-By Truckers have not been blinded by it and have delivered a remarkably mature album.