Instant Expert: Drive-By Truckers
You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With our new feature Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. Next up: the Drive-By Truckers.
The Drive-By Truckers made Southern Rock cool again. Starting in the late ’90s, the Truckers have paired smart, searing lyrics with a monster three-guitar attack on nine studio albums featuring Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, both of whom sing and play guitar, and a rotating lineup of third guitarists, singers and bass players. Frequent touring has earned the band a reputation for sprawling live shows that build up heads of steam and eventually become loud, sweaty rock ’n’ roll celebrations that often feature soliloquys from Hood and plenty of rugged guitar riffs. The Truckers have whittled down their tour schedule recently while Hood and Cooley have played shows behind solo releases, but they’re writing songs for a new Drive-By Truckers album, too.
Though the band has evolved through several different incarnations, 2001’s 'Southern Rock Opera' is generally their most beloved record, and for good reason: It’s a whip-smart double-LP concept album full of memorable songs considering the legacies of Lynyrd Skynyrd and George Wallace — “the duality of the Southern thing,” as Hood puts it.
Sure, 'Southern Rock Opera' is good, but the Drive-By Truckers didn’t reach their creative peak until Jason Isbell joined them on the follow-up, 'Decoration Day.' Isbell’s songs like 'Outfit,' 'The Day John Henry Died' and 'Goddamn Lonely Love' are among the band’s best, and 'Decoration Day' and 'The Dirty South' are stand-out releases. (Isbell left the band in 2007.)
Isbell wrote some gems, no question, but Cooley has always been the Truckers’ real secret weapon when it comes to songwriting. He’s as deliberate as Hood is prolific — “Half a dozen songs is a big year for me,” Cooley once said — but his contributions over the years, including 'Zip City,' 'Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,' '3 Dimes Down' and 'A Ghost to Most,' are highlights of the Truckers' mighty deep repertoire.