"When they thaw out Uncle Disney, gonna be some changes made/Pointing fingers, asking questions/forty years of decisions made" appear as the opening lines of Patterson Hood's debut solo album.
Best known for his leading role in the hard-driving Drive-By Truckers, Hood's killers and Stars contain no loud electric guitars. In fact, Hood plays only his acoustic on all twelve tunes. Like the title, these compositions represent some wicked humor bordering on musical Flannery O'Connor territory.
Killers and Stars was never intended for release. A few homemade copies were burned and circulated as an underground item so Hood decided to make the recording available for purchase.
In the CD liner notes Hood explains the provenance of this collection. "I recorded killers and stars, by myself in the dining room (with the creaking chair, and snoring dog, Loretta) of the house where I was living, in early March 2001. I had just gotten divorced, was fighting with the band (Drive-By Truckers) and a good number of my friends. I recorded the album in two consecutive nights, then ran down some rough mixes (with no outboard sweetening at all) about a week later. The band (DBT) was taking some time off the road to finish mixing our new album (Southern Rock Opera) and just generally cool off from a really intense time of touring and recording. It was also a time to deal with some personal demons that were ravaging our personal lives and were beginning to spill over into our relationships with one another."
These stark songs highlight Hood's songwriting talent. "Rising Son" portrays a reckless son scorned by his father with Hood playing a mean acoustic rhythm. "The Assassin" sounds like a soundtrack for a mass murderer, telling the vivid tale of a killer who "lost my taste for killing anymore."
Hood possesses a great voice. He sounds like a soulful country boy on an old swamper recording. The songwriter remains clear of any musical embellishments other than his guitar (with sparse mandolin) in the true spirit of a troubadour. He demonstrates a proclivity for seeking out fantastic obscure songs to cover such as Tom T. Hall's "Pay No Attention To Alice."
One wonders if the famous Go-Gos lead singer heard this satire written in her name titled "Belinda Carlisle Diet" which begins "Cocaine and milkshakes, milkshakes, cocaine/I can't stand to feel the pain"
These songs cover different eras of Hood's songwriting. For example, "Hobo" was written in 1988, "Miss Me Gone" in 1992, and others recorded in 2000-2001, conjuring a gritty, earthy acoustic coherence.
Hood portrays dark messages, stories, and songs like "Phil's Transplant", a haunting blues number. A psycho overtone threads a song called "Frances Farmer": "I never knew Frances Farmer/I just knew she was an actress that didn't quite fit in/but I feel her lying next to me/breathing in my arms/with translucent skin."
Hood's personal storytelling emerges in "Old Timer's Disease" where he tells the story of his grandfather. In 42, my Granddad was drafted by the army/They sent him off to fight over in Germany/Left my Grandma at home with a brand new baby boy/And my Mom was born the day they bombed Hiroshima/And not long after that my Granddad got to meet her."
The last number on the CD, "Cat Power", delivers more dark truth, a running Hood motif: "Everything is overrated/when you're trapped by what you've created/the drone goes on and on and on"
Hood recently told this writer before a solo show in Atlanta, Georgia, "It's almost cliché to say how the record was therapy, but that's what it was. While I made it, I wasn't making a record, I just had to do something, and that was the best way I could think of was to lock myself in a room for two days and do that. The last thing I wanted to do was put those songs out, release it, and have to deal with it. It was just too creepy for me. I just put it away in a box, but I did go out on a three-week tour on the East Coast to get out of town for a little bit. I needed something to sell. So, I had a guy burn me up one hundred of them so I sold those and did the same thing in Texas later and then I just put it away. I thought maybe someday I'll put these songs out and either recut the songs of finish it or do something because I really didn't think of it as finished. Three years passed, cause we were busy——we put out Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, and toured and toured, but people kept asking about it had been bootlegged, with a few hundred copies floating around, so I said 'fuck it', I'll put it out. When I first got approached about it I wondered if it was gonna make me cringe if I listen to it because I hadn't heard it in a couple of years. It was okay it was totally different than I remember it. Things that originally bothered me about it at the time now just gave it character. There are still a few things I would've fixed, but then if you fix one thing, next thing you know, you've redone the album. I decided to leave it the fuck alone. I got it mastered, but I kept the old mixes and just left it alone."
Patterson Hood contends as one of the strongest songwriters in his generation of rock and rollers. Hell, any drugstore truck driving man will appreciate killers and stars - James Calemine