Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Drive By Truckers
New West Records
By James Calemine
“Trying to hold steady on the righteous path
80 miles an hour with a worn out map
No time for self-pity or self-righteous crap
Trying to stay focused on the righteous path.”
The Drive By Truckers' latest CD, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, marks a new era for the band. With the recent departure of guitarist/songwriter Jason Isbell, the Truckers replaced Isbell with Athens guitarist/pedal steel extraordinaire John Neff. Considering the wise addition of Neff, these songs carry a strong country foundation. This latest release contains a wider, more universal musical/lyrical scope that transcends north, south, east or west.
Recorded in Athens, Georgia, The Truckers dedicate this album to Spooner Oldham, who plays throughout the track sequence. Bassist Shonna Tucker wrote and sang three of these 19 songs. Athens engineer, David Barbe, produced this flawless-sounding album. These songs ring a bit mellower than the Truckers fans are accustomed to, but remain just as powerful with a balance of gritty rock and roll. Of course, true to Trucker form, these songs tell tales of underdogs, the lonely-hearted and heroes with sharp edges of sobering reality.
Patterson Hood’s “Two Daughters And a Beautiful Wife” begins the CD in a reflective mood as the narrative weaves the story of a man dreaming death and leaving behind his family. Mike Cooley’s “3 Dimes Down” elevates the tempo on this textbook three-minute rock and roll number. Hood once again refers to the precious life of a family man in “The Righteous Path”.
Shonna Tucker sings lead on her “I’m Sorry Huston”, adding another vocal dimension to the Truckers' smash-mouth sound. These mature compositions serve as a natural progression in the band’s career. The songwriting does not disappoint on this record. Cooley’s “Perfect Timing” rides on the country side with the lush instrumentation by Neff.
Hood’s “Daddy Needs A Drink” finds a another family man trying to meditate on the world’s troubles and threats amid his comforts of home. Here’s where the album gets real interesting. Cooley’s “Self Destructive Zones” proves he exists as one of the south’s finest songwriters, and mean guitarist with a voice somewhere between Johnny Cash and Levon Helm. The Truckers elimate any doubt on their status as a 'classic' rock and roll group.
Another Cooley number, “Bob”, could fit on any Merle Haggard album and compete as a favorite. Shonna steps up to sing another basement rocker titled “Home Field Advantage”. Patterson Hood’s dark humor creeps into the first lines of “The Opening Act”: “There’s a big fat man on a mechanical bull in slow motion like Debra Winger.” He reverts to a spoken word line or two as Spooner’s Wurlitzer and Neff’s late night pedal steel creeps under your skin…
Cooley’s country-hearted “Lisa’s Birthday”—a jukebox classic—conjures subtle Conway Twitty and George Jones twangs in Oldham and Neff's web of electric sound. “That Man I Shot” verifies the Truckers never stray far from hard-hitting political stories that mirror contemporary government policy. The Truckers submerge their songs in the cultural fabric of every day life in America.
Shonna’s voice on her finest track (accompanied by Neff’s Double E-Bow pedal steel), “The Purgatory Line”, reminds me of Loretta Lynn and stands as one of this album’s best songs.
Hood’s “Home Front” finds a wife waiting on her military husband during a time of war. “Checkout Time In Vegas”, another Cooley gem, weaves a tale of a sun setting on another loser in Sin City. “You And Your Crystal Meth”--an eerie song reflecting the ravaging epidemic of an evil drug that sweeps across the land. These musical characters resonate in one's mind like characters out of a Flannery O'Connor story.
“Goode’s Field Road” represents one of the album’s strongest songs, and some of the most priceless guitar playing on this 70 minute-plus CD. Hood’s “The Monument Valley” closes this indelible collection in a sunwashed cascade of musical color. This album will draw critical acclaim. It contends as one of the Truckers' strongest records, no doubt. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark preserves another timeless chapter in the Drive By Truckers ongoing panoramic songbook.