First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2003, Volume 10, #7
Written by T.J. Simon
The good olí boys from Drive-By Truckers made a name for themselves by keeping southern rock alive in a time when mullets, flannel, and Lynyrd Skynyrd werenít getting their just desserts. The culmination of this mission was the band's 2001 double-disc set Southern Rock Opera, a largely successful, if bloated, song cycle paying homage to the Skynyrd sound and "the southern thing." Decoration Day, the groupís new release, turns a sonic corner for Drive-By Truckers, which backs off the southern rock histrionics in favor of a more attitude-laden, alt-country sound. The shift is subtle, but it contributes to the ultimate success of the album as well as the growth of the ensemble as a serious force in modern music.
Decoration Day begins with The Deeper In, a twisted alt-country ballad sung (rather than croaked) by Drive-By Truckers' fearless leader Patterson Hood. On this track, the band displays a commitment to melody, rather than noise, which is consistent throughout the album. My Sweet Annette, the strongest slow song on the record, is a country number telling the tale of a girl left stranded at the altar while her would-be groom elopes with the pretty bridesmaid. The introduction of pedal steel and fiddle coupled with a nuanced vocal performance from Hood gives Decoration Day a less-rowdy and more adult feel than Drive-By Truckers' fans are accustomed to hearing.
Interestingly, six of the fifteen tracks on Decoration Day are sung by Drive-By Truckers' band members Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell. This proves to be a wise choice as Hoodís gravelly voice grows hard on the ears when he takes the lead on too many songs in a row. To a large extent, Cooley steals the show on the classic-rock inspired Marry Me with guitar licks copped from The Eaglesí Already Gone and general inspiration from The Rolling Stonesí Dead Flowers. Itís another of the discís finest moments ó a derivative drive down memory lane that draws from rockís rich history. Isbell shines brightly on the wisdom-filled Outfit, which contains a southern fatherís advice to his son with nuggets including, "Donít sing with a fake British accent" and "Donít call what youíre wearing an outfit."
Iíve been a Drive-By Truckers cheerleader for a few years now, yet as much as I have enjoyed the bandís records, I donít find myself listening to them all that much. This is probably for all the same reasons that I donít linger when my car stereo scans past Skynyrd on the radio: itís good stuff, but Iíve heard it all before. For all its successes, Decoration Day is not without its problems. At 65 minutes in length, the album could use some trimming, and the second half falters a bit. Nevertheless, itís certainly the strongest release in the Drive-By Truckers' catalog. Yet, the question remains: will I be playing this CD a year from now? I guess only time will tell.
Of Further Interest...
Decoration Day is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box