Kindred spirits: Lynyrd Skynyrd,
Bettye LaVette, Booker T. Jones
Shows: With Blitzen Trapper on Saturday and Sunday at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 7 p.m. 202-265-0930. www.930.com. $35; Saturday show is sold out.
Soulful vocals and rhythmic swagger go a long way in Southern indie-rock circles. But it takes a top-notch songwriter — or, better yet, two — to create a truly compelling album. Drive-By Truckers make it look easy on their 12th release, “English Oceans,” thanks to a series of alternating contributions by Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood. Delivering one-two punches throughout, the two never let up — or let listeners down.
Neither is interested in hollow Southern-rock anthems. Some of Cooley’s best moments come on the lacerating opener, “Sh-- Shots Count,” and when he writes about political cynicism on “Made Up English Oceans.” Hood’s input smartly counters and complements. “The Part of Him” echoes some of Cooley’s views, and other Hood songs have a strong narrative thread, such as “When Walter Went Crazy,” or strike a poignant chord. Indeed, the album closes with Hood’s elegiac “Grand Canyon,” dedicated to a late member of the band’s tour crew.
Cooley and Hood sing the songs they each composed, save for one — “Til He’s Dead or Rises.” Cooley swiftly brings the small-town scenario in Hood’s song to vivid life. There are plenty of times, though, when the album’s focus is on the band’s firmly rooted influences and formidable attack.
It has been three years since Drive-By Truckers released an album, and it may be longer still before we see another. But “English Oceans” will be hard to top.