Published Oct 05, 2016As Joe Strummer once proclaimed: "This is a public service announcement with guitars."
A politically supercharged collection of songs by one of America's most consistently rewarding bands would be welcome in any year, but Drive-By Truckers' American Band is all the more valuable at this fraught moment. Imagine a rock'n'roll record featuring staggering songs about the Black Lives Matter movement ("What It Means"), school shootings ("Guns of Umpqua"), the Mexican border ("Ramon Casiano"), slut-shaming ("Filthy and Fried"), depression ("Baggage"), and political chicanery ("Kinky Hypocrite") all played with shaggy barroom abandon; now imagine that the album is made by a bunch of unapologetically Southern American white men, the kind of "blue-eyed Southern devils" a century of stereotyping has trained liberals — everyone, really — to mistrust.
"Ever Southern in my carriage, ever Southern in my stance," sings co-frontman Patterson Hood on the autobiographical "Ever South," and no one is more aware of the complexity of such a statement, such an identity, than he and his band mates. As has become de rigeur for the Drive-By Trucker live shows of late, the lead vocal and songwriting duties are shared fairly equally here between Hood and his longtime compadre Mike Cooley. Each of them has brought a measure of clarity to these endlessly muddy concerns that speaks to their hard-fought maturity as writers. They have both found, on their eleventh album (and best since the early 2000s), a renewed purpose and direction in this time of existential crisis for America.
The most important rock'n'roll album of 2016 is also likely the most important rock'n'roll album of the past decade. American Band is not to be missed. (ATO Records)