(Ruth St. Records)
A sharp guitar riff opens the CD in the title track, and Patterson Hood sings in his merciless, gravel-tone voice, “I killed Oscar/Shot him in the head/Put the gun in his mouth/Watched his brains fly out,” and in this wicked song you find salvation in unavoidable darkness. Patterson’s liner notes for each song indicate during “Murdering Oscar” he "Was still guilt ridden and miserable from getting divorced recently and was drawn to the notion of absolving myself of my sins.” He’s killing the enemy within, but it can also be seen from the perspective of a drifter-killer confession in a truck stop outside of Amarillo.
“Pollyanna”, the oldest song on this CD was written in Memphis in 1991 that contains, a kerosene-smelling Stones toxin that sounds like a road-tested band created. This doesn’t sound like a solo CD. When I asked Patterson about that in early June 2009, he responded, “I don’t know if I’ll ever make another solo record per se. The Drive By Truckers have moved to this direction, of course John Neff joined the Truckers right after that." Hood told me “ The majority of the record was recorded in January 2005, two weeks before my daughter was born. A third of it was recorded ten years before—I’d just moved to Athens.”
Centromatic’s Will Johnson and Scott Danborn serve as band members along with Athens sound wizard David Barbe. Barbe recorded almost all of the Truckers albums, and Hood feels comfortable having him around. Hood revealed to me “Pride of the Yankees” was his “favorite” song on Murdering Oscar. It was the last song recorded for Murdering Oscar. In the liner notes, Hood revealed: “I wrote an earlier draft utilizing the same piano progression a few weeks after Ava was born, then re-wrote it successfully while on tour opening for The Black Crowes. John Neff’s pedal steel works in emotive tandem with the piano. It’s a song about a father concerned about raising a baby in this evil old world.
In Hood’s words about the tune he wrote indicate “I Understand Now’ “Is absolutely one of the most unabashed positive songs". Patterson’s father, the one of the original “Muscle Shoals Swampers” plays on this tune. Patterson noted, “I pictured him playing this Muscle Shoals kind of bass line, but instead he played it like a Motown song (Motown being the polar opposite of Muscle Shoals in the soul music vernacular) taking it to a place I never would have imaged.”
When I asked Patterson about his father playing on his songs, he said: “I love his playing. I’ve wanted to work with my father. People assume he’s a professional musician; I’m a professional musician that we sat around and played. We never played together or professionally on any level. It’s something I always wanted to do.”
Written in Atlanta, “Screwtopia”, served as the fulcrum for Athens pedal steel expert John Neff joining the Drive By Truckers. A low-bottom, laid back beat with one of Patterson’s oldest themes—family--threading the story. To continue the generational sentiment Hood penned about the next song, an acoustic-country song with fiddle called “Granddaddy”: “ (I) wrote this song shortly before Ava was born and it was my first love song to her. I was forty when she was born, which is basically the same age my grandparents were when I was born. When I was a kid, George A (my great Uncle) would hide candy in this old Nash that he had parked out at his farm. My cousins and I would explore that old car looking for candy and always finding some. This was one of my fondest memories and I’m thrilled to have a place to put that imagery in this song.”
“The Range War”, contains a thick as mud beat, a Todd Rundgren song, which allowed Hood to elaborate on stereotypes: “After Southern Rock Opera many people just assumed that all I do is sit around and listen to Molly Hatchet. I don’t. I never did.” But this song still represents southern music at it’s finest through interpretations colored by banjos, pedal steel, and gospel harmony singers. Unforgettable stuff...
“Foolish Young Bastard” in Patterson’s words, “I wrote this song late in the process about a former manager who was always using salt when sugar would work better and pushing when a little pulling would suffice.” The banjo and Appalachian drum sound, a stand-up bass rhythm conjures images of riverboats from a Mark Twain story. The sparse, Americana sound on this one tips a hat to The Band.
“Heaving And Hanging” really does sound like The Truckers. The menacing song revolves around suicide, but it’s a hopeful song for the desperate. On the CD, its apparent Hood’s guitar playing seems more prevalent. With Mike Cooley in your band, there’s very little room for soloing, but on Murdering Oscar, Hood asserts himself. He told me, “The last couple of years I’ve stepped it up as a guitar player—especially on this record.”
Written in 2004, “Walking Around Sense”, Hood said, “It could be argued that the song is sung to the daughter of a famous rock and roll widow,” stews in a subterranean, moody groove. “Back of A Bible” was written in Atlanta’s Highland Inn during 1994 when Patterson used a Gideon’s to write this song, a country-rockabilly gem on a sacred page.
Patterson told this writer about a song that didn’t make the CD called “Uncle Phil and Aunt Phyllis After the Election Month", he recorded with his father. David Hood played on Milly Jackson records when she was known to read monologues, spoken word, stories, songs and anything that came into her mind. In tribute to her, Patterson read a monologue his father recorded on. “You could hear the pages turn", Hood told me about the memorable session. This song can only be heard by vinyl as of now, but it’s something to seek out.
Murdering Oscar counts as an essential gem. One of the best releases of the year...