Artist: Drive-By Truckers
Album: Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Comments: I’ve got plenty of pet peeves, but a major one is when people claim to like “anything but country.” I forget who said it, but someone once made the point that country is like any other genre of art; some of it is really good, some of it is total crap, and the rest of it falls in between the two extremes. It just seems ignorant to discount an entire genre of music because Toby Keith sucks.
Its also a huge insult to groups like the Drive-By Truckers, whose most recent album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, is one of the better albums of the year, and probably the best country record of 2008 (this includes the latest Old 97s’, which I raved about last week).
Let me get my criticism out of the way early. The album ,clocking in at over an hour and 19 tracks total, is entirely too long. The band should have left a few of these tracks, like the poorly-named-and-even-more-poorly-executed “You and Your Crystal Meth,” and some tracks do tend to lose their punch on repeat listens. “The Man I Shot,” for example, sat on my chest like a tucker-out wooly mammoth the first time I heard it, but it has since lost its sheen for me. And calling this thing an album is a bit misleading, as it plays more like a collection of songs than a declaration of meaning.
That being said, this album boats some of the finest song-writing and expert musicianship I’ve ever heard from a country album. The Drive By Truckers employ two singers who write and perform songs almost evenly, and their dichotomy between aging good old boy (Mike Cooley) and reformed roughneck with a family (Patterson Hood) is exciting to listen to.
Usually, when a songwriter gets a family, work tends to soften and slow down, making tracks sappy and soft. That’s not the case with Hood, as he takes his love for his family and molds it into something touching, hopeful, longing and sad all at the same time. “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” and “The Righteous Path” are both excellent examples that prove a tied-down man can still produce.
Cooley, while not having the same sense of focused purpose as Patterson, produces some inspired character sketches (“Bob”), commentary on the everyday life of a working stiff (“Dimes Down”), and examines the generations as rock and roll lives and (maybe) dies (the exceptional “Self-Destructive Zones”).
The music may have banjos and steel and guitars with twang, but writing off such well structured and captivating music as “country” is to rob the Drive-By Truckers of what they’ve accomplished here. This is American music, for anyone who has ever longed for the open road, tasted the sweet joy of cold beer after a hot day, or held their newborn child in their hands. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is a two-man triumph that is both personal and perennial, and always impressive.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Key Tracks: Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife, Dimes Down, The Righteous Path, Self Destructive Zones, The Opening Act, Daddy Needs a Drink, Self-Destructive Zones
Buy, Steal, or Skip: Buy!