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Please explain to me ... Drive-By Truckers

Drive-By TruckersAre we the only ones who think Drive-By Truckers are overrated?

Another year, another Drive-By Truckers album, another chance for people to proclaim them the greatest band in the land. And another chance for us to scratch our heads at the continued praise for this terribly overrated band. Hey, We at The Washington Post gave the band's latest, "The Big To-Do," a very fine review just yesterday. But for some of us, we still don't get what all the fuss is about. The Truckers are a fine group with some smart observations about Southern living and some rocking tunes. But is this really the best we've got? A few issues...

1) It seems people are mistaking grand scope with great quality. The band rarely thinks small. Double album southern rock operas, live shows that push the three hour mark. Whatever happened to brevity being the soul of wit? Whatever happened to Creedence giving us nine songs in 28 minutes and that being the perfect amount. Just because there's a lot, that doesn't make it an automatic epic.

2) The band shares regular themes with mainstream country artists -- southern living, down-on-their luck unsavory characters, etc. When a CMT-approved band trots out songs based around these ideas, non-country fans dismiss it as pandering. But suddenly when the Truckers do it, they are simply speaking the truth. Seems like a double standard.

3) Maybe the appeal is that they take bits of Southern rock and country and make it safe for non-fans of those genres to appreciate, but it seems like there's some hedging of bets. I've no doubt Patterson Hood loves him some Lynyrd Skynrd. At the same time, his fans are almost certainly going to rather listen to Band of Horses. Maybe that's not an issue with the band as much as the fans, but it does make me wonder what it would be like if they just gave in and went all-out country for an album.

Anyway, we're open to your thoughts. What makes the Truckers so great? Please explain...

By David Malitz  |  March 17, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Please explain to me  | Tags: Drive-By Truckers  
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I went online to try to read all the positive reviews of the new album and was suprised to find this one first. I'll try to explain.

1. The new album is 14 songs and no longer then 1 hour. I was at there show in Atlanta Friday night and the show was 2.5 hours long. Is that to long? Pearl Jam shows are that long, Wilco shows are that long and there both bands that critics want to tell you are the best in the nation.

2. New country music sucks, period. The country artist of today know nothing of the "down on there luck, unsavory characters" that they sing about, DBT fans dig it because it comes off as real, not some pretty face that sounds country that a producer wrote a song for.

3. I'm just as likely to listen to Lynyrd Skynrd as I am to Band of Horsed or Neil Young or the Black Crows or Springsteen. I would almost call "Brighter then Creations Dark" a country album and I don't know weather there fans dug it or not but who cares, at least there are still a couple bands out there who put out what they want and not what a record company wants!

I think your the only one calling them the greatest band and the only one scratching your head but lets not fault them for not being the best southern rock since Lynyrd Skynrd, there just trying to have fun.

Posted by: bdthurman1 | March 17, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

1. Go see them live. I'll take a Truckers show or similarly a Springsteen show pushing 3 hours where the artists give you the feeling that their lives depend on this show over some hipster flavor of the month that is on the stage for 45 minutes and gives you the too cool for school feeling that they could less whether you walk away satisfied with the show or not.

2. I could be wrong, but a lot of those CMT approved bands also have songs that are downright happy and/or sappy and/or pandering and/or hoping to get on said network. The Truckers give you the vibe they could give a S*** about radio/CMT airplay or acceptance from those outlets.

3. Not as well versed on Band of Horses, so cannot comment on that. Two of the last artists DBT have worked with are Booker T and Betty Lavette, not exactly rock; definitely not country.

Its about sincerity and authenticity.
A lot of artists try to attain these attributes, but its not something that can be faked. A lot of CMT artists dont have it; in this persons opinion. The Truckers have it in spades.

And who cannot appreciate an opening lyric like this:

"Well my daddy didnt pull out but he never apologized/rock and roll means well but it cant help telling young boys lies".

Posted by: saco | March 17, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

You make some decent points, especially #1--these guys could use an editor here and there. As for the music, it's not particularly groundbreaking, but it's plenty good and loud, in the grand tradition of rock n roll.

But what sets DBT apart for me is the quality of their storytelling. They mix lurid subject matter, clever wordplay, and compelling characters together like nobody else these days, all set to kickass three-guitar rock. Most mainstream country acts are neither clever enough or credible enough to tell the stories DBT tells, and they don't know how to rock anyway.

As for indie-rock bands, most don't even try to tell a story--their lyrics often make no sense at all. There are exceptions, obviously, like DBT's former tourmates The Hold Steady, but you know what I'm talking about, all you Animal Collective fans.

Posted by: athena2 | March 17, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Well regarding #2 at least, those themes have been prominent in country music since, well, forever. Just because George Strait or whoever sings about those topics in uninteresting ways doesn't mean lots of other people, from Johnny Cash to Jack White, don't. So there's nothing inherently bad about that stuff.

Posted by: agl132 | March 17, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

well damn. i haven't heard the big to-do yet, but that's because the vinyl is waiting for me in my mailbox. and i can't bear to hear it first any other way.

so, i think you think it's a shtick. and, sometimes it is. that's why they appeal to fans of "southern rock". (i have yet to figure out what that means, exactly, but if it means songs set in the South + guitars + pedal steel, count me in.)

"southern rock opera" was intentionally ridiculously epic. it is not ironic. but still knowingly a little ridiculous to write a 2-disc concept album about lynyrd skynrd. the most shocking part is that it turned out to be not just fun; it's also really amazing. there are a few clunkers on there, to be sure. but they have giant riffs, and biting wit, and compelling stories. "Let There be Rock" is one of my favorite songs of all times.

patterson is the story-teller, painting vivid lyrical tapestries. cooley writes barnburners with lyrical bite and clever turn of phrase. isbell was the best songwriter of the bunch. people who are skeptical of "southern rock", i usually point to decoration day. it's pretty country sounding in parts, but it is unabashedly beautiful songwriting, especially from isbell. The songwriting seems to have expanded in scope and style since then.

Brighter than Creation's Dark had about 5 too many songs on it. Pity. But it has some GREAT songs on it too. I'm hoping that the big to-do is a leaner version of that level of songwriting with the clutter removed.

But I have to repeat saco's comment too. The live show is where it is really at. And, ahem, they're playing the Recher in Towson next month. Come out!

Posted by: Hoodrat | March 18, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

oh, and to respond more substantively to your #2 point than i did before:

Most (I won't say all) mainstream country music does indeed trot out stock characters with little substance. They also write boring music, boring lyrics and have nothing to say really at all. The only thing DBT really has in common is twang. Their stories tend toward vivid portraiture about people and places they know.

Saying that they just write about down-on-their-luck folk reminds me of my mother's comment on the hold steady "it's just like all popular music - boys and girls and he-ing and she-ing"

well, yes, but there are some good stories to be told about "he-ing and she-ing" in all sorts of different genres. DBT also has some stories about "he-ing and she-ing". So does Jay-Z. Similarly, DBT, the Hold Steady and Jay-Z all have some stories about down-on-their-luck characters.

Also, I never got Band of Horses.

Posted by: Hoodrat | March 18, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Uhmm, let's see --
1) ya think Creedence's 9 in 28 was maybe a 60's record company dictate to accommodate radio airplay?
2)Thank god DBT have little in common with those big hat, tight jean,sex appeal selling, no talent, Sugarland sounding, cliche ridden, syrup laden, redundancy spewing, CMT kissing bores (too judgmental?). Those folks are about commerce, not art.
3) Shakespeare shares themes with Harlequin Romances. That doesn't mean they're comparable. It's all in the details.
4) Stay focused on the righteous path Truckers.

Posted by: WilcoFan | March 18, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Malitz was careful to put four states and 1,500 miles between us before he posted this. Drive-by? More like a Predator drone attack!

I keed, of course, but it’s difficult to refute a put-down this gentle: You’re saying they’re “a fine group” but “terribly overrated?” By whom? When I say These Very Things about, say, Animal Collective, I point to the coverage they receive in This Very Newspaper as evidence.

Bloat seems less of a problem in the iTunes age, but it’s worth pointing out here that the shortest album the Truckers have released since the 93-minute "Southern Rock Opera" broke them out nine years ago, "A Blessing and a Curse," is also their weakest. Creedence may have been able to say it all in 28 minutes, but there was only one world-class singer-songwriter in that band. In the Truckers, there’re three. So the fact that you’ve got three, distinct, prolific voices in the group is probably the biggest reason the albums have a lot of songs, quality control has held strong for a decade, and their last-night-on-Earth live shows remain one of the best bargains in live music.

But if it's brevity and wit you're into, proceed directly to the DBT tunes written and sung by Mike Cooley: “Three Dimes Down,” “Guitar Man Upstairs,” and “Marry Me” will get you started. Come back to me when you’re ready for the Cooley songs that are less brief but more heartbreaking. Cooley is simply one of the pithiest, sharpest, most quotable songwriters in America.

The Truckers may share themes with a lot of current country music, but their perspective is uncommon — the only other songwriter primary DBT frontman Patterson Hood reminds me of is James McMurty. Nobody else sings about class in the same clear-eyed, non-pandering way the Truckers do. They’re not setting up any straw men for us to shake our fists at. I don’t have any problem with Brad Paisley, but it’s hard to imagine him, or even Jamey Johnston, writing a song like the Truckers’ “Putting People on the Moon.”

Posted by: ChrisKlimek1 | March 19, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Most folks working in D.C. just don't get "it", they're out of touch with the American people. The DBTs are blue collar working class...something folks in DC are clueless about. Not intended to be intellectualized or analyzed... .....just listen and rock. How's that for brevity?

Posted by: ichimelo | March 21, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Your not supposed to "get it". Your mangina prevents you from "getting it". Freakin' Skirt.

Posted by: BLT2LAST | March 22, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

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