Last summer the Drive-By Truckers opened shows for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I saw their set in St. Louis at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on a hot and humid evening in July. A perfect choice for the tour highlighting Petty's recent album Mojo, the Drive-By Truckers reminded me what a solid band they have blossomed into over the years. Their new album, Go-Go Boots, due February 15 on ATO Records continues that feeling in spades and like their fellow southern brethern, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Drive-By Truckers do not make a bad album.
Although the material on their ninth studio album is almost two years old, the music is still fresh and relevant. The band entered the studio in 2009 and emerged with two albums worth of songs that make up both The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots. While their last record, The Big To-Do, the Truckers stayed close to their Southern classic rock with blues infused sound, Go-Go Boots has more of a country/soul sound that rolls more than it rocks. The darker underbelly of life themes still continue, but this album sounds lighter than earlier works. As with most bands who become more comfortable with their music their sound becomes more daring and it's easier to take greater risks. The Truckers are no different and sound more mature and polished with the change.
Certainly this shift is easily traced back to being the backing band for Booker T. Jones on his 2009 instrumental album Potato Holeand Bettye LaVette on her album Scene of the Crime. However, since Hood's father David was the bassist of the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section the genesis of this album was much deeper in history as the combination of the roots of Rock, Blues, Soul, Country and Rhythm & Blues were the same as the studio musicians laid down in sessions during the 1960's and 1970's. According to an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Hood found music early in life in his native Alabama. He met another mentor in Jay Leavitt, a local DJ and record store employee, when Hood was in 5th grade. By the time Hood hit high school he would save his lunch money to go buy records at The Music Scene -- the store where Leavitt worked.
"I would skip lunch at school and save up my lunch money to buy records. So I'd go into his record store every week and buy something. If I didn't have anything particular to buy that week, I'd just ask Jay and buy what he recommended. Most of those records he recommended -- like, say, 'Born to Run' -- are still my favorite records." - Patterson Hood
The band attacks with three different singers in guitarists Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and bass player Shonna Tucker giving the sound a strong versatility that other artists lack. Hood takes more of a frontman approach on this record singing 9 songs here and while his songs stray toward the rock end of the scale, Cooley still shines on his country tinged songs "Cartoon Gold", "The Weakest Man" and "Pulaski," each infused with banjo and pedal steel. Tucker continues her trend of singing ballads, but here they mix better with the entire album than the previous albums by the band with an edgier rock sound.
For Go-Go Boots a cleaner, bluesy guitar sound from Hood and Cooley replaces the Neil Young and Crazy Horse style distortion and crunch of The Big To-Do. This allows for a more open mix giving John Neff’s pedal steel playing and Jay Gonzalez’ B-3 and piano, or his Wurlitzer more space and highlights the Country/Soul sound. The space allows for more ebb and flow of the record. At times previous albums have sounded too cohesive, but here the theme is looser and it's a welcome change.
This prolific band continues to write and record and tour at a staggering pace. Never one to shy away from a long album, the band packs 14 tracks onto the album without allowing the presentation to seem too long -- even though the album clocks in over an hour. For a band that has not covered many songs in their recordings the choice of two songs by the late Eddie Hinton, guitarist for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, fit perfectly into the country/soul sound they are projecting here. Hood expertly tackles Hinton's "Everybody Needs Love" giving it a lost classic feel with Gonzalez' organ and piano soulful playing and Brad Morgan timekeeping on the drums echos great 1960's soul records. Later, Tucker gives a perfectly heartbreaking reading of "Where's Eddie?" Hood related that the two songs, originally only intended for a Hinton tribute album, became the inspiration for the rest of the record.
As an album closer Hood decided to dust off a song that predates the band and rewrite some lyrics and polish up the rough edges. The results of his work on "Mercy Buckets" give the album a strong ending with slow buildup over 5 1/2 minutes that Hood compares to his "prom song." With a sizzling dual guitar solo by Hood and Cooley coloring Morgan's 197o's rock themed drumming and Gonzalez' inspired work on the keys, the song is a superb ending to another classic album by one of the best bands of the last decade.
The band will be playing live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday, February 15 to commemorate the album release date. Speaking of the release, Go-Go Boots is available on compact disc, digital download, 180 gram vinyl and a Deluxe Vinyl Edition with a gatefold cover, DVD, art prints, and more. Checkout the band's website for more details.
Go-Go Boots track listing
- I Do Believe
- Go-Go Boots
- Dancin' Ricky
- Cartoon Gold
- Ray's Automatic Weapon
- Everybody Needs Love
- The Weakest Man
- Used To Be A Cop
- The Fireplace Poker
- Where's Eddie
- The Thanksgiving Filter
- Mercy Buckets