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Drive-By Truckers: New, 'Brighter' Songs

Drive-By Truckers is based in R.E.M. country: Athens, Ga. But three of its members grew up around another music town: Muscle Shoals, Ala., where Patterson Hood's father was a famed bassist. Drive-By Truckers' multi-guitar attack is classic swamp-rock. And the band can sure write songs.

For its first few years, Drive-By Truckers was an alt-boogie band as crude and demented as its name. In 2001, it revealed its higher ambitions by celebrating Lynyrd Skynyrd in words and music on a double-album called Southern Rock Opera. By then, Patterson Hood had proven himself an indefatigable teller of stories about Southern sinners. But the band's new album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, begins with "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife," in which the protagonist is in heaven as his friends cry around his deathbed.

Like the old cowpunks they are, Hood and his band have a soft spot for losers and total scuzzballs. They've also written more good songs about musicians than any competing road dogs you can name. But as they've gotten older, they've gotten more country. Their great subject isn't losers anymore — it's strugglers.

Patterson Hood has never been the band's only writer. On the new record, bassist Shonna Tucker has some songs, and Hood's longtime partner Mike Cooley also contributes half a dozen good ones, such as "Lisa's Birthday."

But Cooley is second banana in Drive-By Truckers. Usually, his songs are less pointed than "Lisa's Birthday" — less pointed than Hood's work, too. Hood takes nine leads on Brighter Than Creation's Dark, and just about every one is from the top drawer of a writer who's been prolific and consistent for a decade. The titles of "Daddy Needs a Drink" and "You and Your Crystal Meth" speak for themselves. "Goode's Field Road" is about a junkyard operator who commits suicide so his wife and kids can get his insurance. "The Monument Valley" takes off from the John Ford film The Searchers.

And then there are two Iraq songs based on stories Hood was told by people he met. He admits that the soldier in "That Man I Shot," quote, "probably doesn't agree with a lot of my viewpoints." But he swears he got the guy's voice right — the voice of a struggler, and maybe a sinner, but not a loser.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Christgau contributes regular music reviews to All Things Considered.