The Drive By Truckers represent one of America’s finest bands in the last 20 years. The Big To-Do counts as the Truckers’ tenth album--their debut on ATO Records. The Truckers dedicated this disc to Jim Dickinson and Jerry Wexler. Unlike previous Trucker albums, these songs take place in present time.
Basically 25 songs were recorded for these sessions at David Barbe’s Chase Park Transduction Studios in 25 days--a no nonsense recording process. The rest of the acoustic-based material will be released as another album towards the end of 2010. In the liner notes, Patterson Hood describes the provenance of The Big To-Do: “I never really was all that into the circus as a kid, but I sure was into The Rock Show, which was sort of the Circus for kids of my generation. I went and wanted to join. I’ve been living on the road for much of the last two decades. I get tired and burned out, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The Big To-Do.”
The opening song, “Daddy Learned To Fly” reveals the price to pay for going on the road—leaving the family: “Daddy’s gone away and no one can tell me why/Mommy’s been so sad since Daddy learned to fly.” Hood’s “The Fourth Night of My Drinking” signifies a soundtrack for many-a-good-soul’s struggle with inner demons.
“Birthday Boy”—a Mike Cooley composition—was the last song written for the album—a story of temptation and reverie: “You got a girlfriend don’t you boy?/Nervous hands can’t lie.” “Drag The Lake Charlie” serves a grim humor with dark messages reminiscent of The Dirty South territory. “The Wig He Made Her Wear” is about a Tennessee woman who shot her preacher-husband. This was a story that haunted Hood from Norway to Hernando, Mississippi, and as he said: “Some songs beg to be written…”
“You Got Another” shows Shonna Tucker blooming as a timeless songwriter on this piano-driven, country tune. “This Fucking Job”, complete with textbook ruthless Trucker sound, serves as a cutthroat voice for common hardworking American folk in this anemic economy.
One of the album’s best songs, “Get Downtown”, exists as a rock and roll gem, yet it also carries a contemporary message in these strained economic times. The Truckers possess a genius for painting cultural backdrops and characters into song. Continuing the economic theme, “After The Scene Dies” says goodbye to the good old days, old places and the past. Things are not the way they used to be…
“(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So”--another Tucker classic--sounds like a mysterious country band with this great female singer, and verifies The Truckers’ undeniable versatility. “Santa Fe"--a Hood number—evokes a cinematic scene in a desert landscape with cactus all around and a sweeping pedal steel as a melodic breeze. The lyrics evoke a picturesque hotel scene: “You said that you’d be waiting for me here in Santa Fe/With dreams and postponements made along the way/Ricocheting back and forth between my two extremes/All of us knows/Exactly what that means.”
“The Flying Wallendas” is another “true song" as Hood revealed in the liner notes. Written five years before Karl Wallenda’s death, a Paul Hemphill story—“The Late Karl Wallenda”--from his book Too Old To Cry, puts this Truckers song into context: “Karl Wallenda has lived with fear and tragedy for most of his sixty-eight years. Born into a circus family in Germany, he has been walking the high wire for fifty-two years. In that time he has done many spectacular things—the most noteworthy being an eleven-hundred foot walk across a treacherous, wind-swept eight-hundred-foot deep gorge in the Appalachians of northeast Georgia and consequently he has been celebrated as few performers have been in the history of the circus…But he has had to pay his dues.” Hood’s song tells the rest of the tale…
The final track on The Big To-Do, Cooley’s “Eyes Like Glue”, sends a message to a young child: “You’ll know you’re just a man when you feel all the weight press down/Next time you’re watching me remember that’s all I am now.” The Big To-Do retains The Truckers mean, muscular sound, but in this day and age, even The Truckers reveal a vulnerability we all experience. Hood summed it up in the final paragraph of the liner notes:
“I grew up worshipping rock and roll like a religion. I know its shortcomings and strengths but have loved it unconditionally all the same since I was eight-years old. I ran away and joined the circus and honestly, I’m still as obsessed as I was as a boy. I’m not a kid anymore but I still remember how it felt and it doesn’t really feel all that different to me now. I pay the price, but I get to get up there with my best friends and tell dirty and violent stories about desperate people in troubled circumstances. I get to turn up loud, and sometimes I get to dance…”
Step right up folks…welcome to The Big To-Do…