THE DIRTY SOUTH
The Drive-By Truckers haul a heavy load. Telling lugubrious stories about town-leveling twisters, loathsome lawmen and dirt-poor families, this Alabama quintet simultaneously waves the Confederate flag and sheds tears on it. In "Puttin' People on the Moon," frontman Patterson Hood croons about being laid off at a Ford plant, scraping by as a small-time coke dealer, watching the wife die of cancer . . . and then having to work at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart!
Seriously, can we all just go hang ourselves now?
Hood's tales of woe start to feel like a cliche on the Truckers' sixth effort, "The Dirty South," which will reach stores next week. Not only is this 70-minute album bogged down by his predictable songwriting, it continues the southern rock band's trend toward ballads. Fortunately, the Truckers' other two singer-songwriters, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell, make contributions that salvage this rig.
Both men give better vocal performances than their wild-eyed leader. The greasy Cooley uncorks an ominously perfect moonshine-rocker on the opening track, "Where the Devil Don't Stay." "Daddy's Cup," his lovingly detailed ditty about stock-car racing, is destined to become a NASCAR fan favorite. The kind-voiced Isbell proves that he's a gifted songwriter, too, whether it's during gentle moments (the touching "Danko/Manuel") or on grizzled, infectious anthems ("Never Gonna Change").
Give Hood credit: He did pen the album's biggest burst of three-guitar squalor, "Lookout Mountain." That amp-rattling song -- written years ago -- actually lives up to the Lynyrd Skynyrd comparisons often lavished upon the Truckers. "Turn it up to 10 and rip off the knob," Hood says in "The Dirty South" liner notes, apparently oblivious to the album's mostly mellow demeanor. Good idea, Patterson. We're waiting.
-- Michael Deeds