American Band

Drive-By Truckers

ATO, 2016

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


One of the great political records of last year was one that didn’t get as much coverage as it should have, likely because bigger names dominated the headlines. Indeed, I should have added this to my Best Of 2016 list somewhere, because American Band perfectly nails the confusion, anxiety, pride and questioning that comprises what it means to live in our wonderful country…if you’re at all paying attention, that is.

Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood have shifted gears on the band’s 11th album for the current, the personal and the poignant. The band’s comment about “the duality of the Southern thing” resonates; a lifelong Georgia resident, Hood moved to Oregon last year, but it’s obvious his heart remains in Dixie. The lyrics of American Band concern recent school shootings, the Confederate flag, “surrender under protest,” the meaning of progress when we still can’t treat each other with basic human decency, and so forth.

Cooley and Hood aren’t exactly liberals, but neither are they Southern-dyed Republicans who give the South a bad name. It’s a safe bet they’re not Trump supporters – certainly, some of the lyrics here seem to contradict Fox News talking points – and this duality makes the record stronger, because it allows for lyrical and musical honesty. What are we doing here? Is this the best we can do as a country?

I won’t blather on about 2016 and racism and Trump’s victory and so forth. Others have done that more eloquently and certainly more often. But most Americans will feel a kindred spirit with Drive-By Truckers here, I imagine, on songs like “Guns Of Umpqua” and “Filthy And Fried” and the true-life story-song opener “Ramon Casiano.” Musically, the Truckers remain leaders of the Southern rock scene, fusing and modernizing elements of Skynyrd, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, a little Creedence, and some basic Rolling Stones guitar for good measure. I also noticed an element of the Tragically Hip, the great Canadian alt-rock band what called it quits last year, in the loping, charming songwriting.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It would be a reach to call this a “protest record,” but this is certainly one of the most current, righteously angry and yet calm approaches to a political album that has been made in a while. Neil Young’s The Monsanto Years and Peace Trail attempted this sort of thing but were too rushed and idiosyncratic to succeed, but of course they got more press coverage, because it’s Neil. Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly were more successful but also more targeted in their attack and, likely, their audience.

But American Band speaks to everyone. It has a good time on “Filthy And Fried” and the Stones boogie of “Kinky Hypocrite,” with the line “The greatest separators of fools and their money / Party harder than they’d like to admit.” It calls out immigration, border control and racism on “Ramon Casiano,” the shooting of young black men on “What It Means,” violence and gun culture on “Guns Of Umpqua” with a measured yet critical eye. It, as all Truckers albums do, mocks the assholes and the egotistical leaders (especially Republicans) who use these events and the true feelings of true Americans for political gain and sloganeering.

The thing with liberals is that they really don’t understand how people could support Donald Trump and so come up with quick, mostly-inaccurate reasons (“racism,” “sexism,” “angry white men,” “the South” and so forth). The Truckers actually get it, because they come from there and they live there. They just don’t like it. To me, this makes all the difference, because they’re not putting down the average man whose politics are right of center. They’re simply questioning why we are still fighting the same old battles over racism, guns, the Confederate flag and pride, immigration, freedoms and blatant hypocrisy from our “leaders.” What makes us so stuck in our ways? Again, is this really the best we can do?

If there’s a downside to American Band, it’s that the lyrics and mood seem to take precedence over the music, which while exciting and moving where needed doesn’t really variate or resonate throughout the disc like it should. On the other hand, it’s a safe bet this is done on purpose. Anyone who can set aside their right-wing politics and think critically will be moved by what’s here, if not politically then by the sincerity with which Cooley and Hood approach the state of the country and by the personal closer “Baggage,” written to address the suicide of Robin Williams and Hood’s own struggles with depression.

As “What It Takes” says about the police shootings in Florida and Ferguson that spawned #Black Lives Matter: “They'll spin it for the anchors / On the television screen / So we can shrug and let it happen / Without asking what it means … And some man with a joystick / Lands a rocket on a comet / We're living in an age / Where limitations are forgotten / The outer edges move and dazzle us / But the core is something rotten.” Indeed. And when we can acknowledge that and talk to each other, we may get somewhere.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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