Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

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Somewhere amongst a bias or other prejudgment, I found myself expecting this new release from DBT to fall somewhere within the upper and lower boundaries of mediocrity.  As mediocre Truckers still merit attention, this isn’t as cynical a view as it may sound. Still, to my ears, after 2004’s The Dirty South, they’ve produced an uneven, if not declining, quality product.

Sadly, I was right.

The first track, “I Do Believe,” is another solid if unspectacular opener.  For whatever reason, the band rarely starts off a CD with an ace.  Hopes are immediately encouraged at the title track, “Go-Go Boots,” which opens with a cutting slide guitar.  The band is all over this track, providing a loose but energetic framework for lead singer/songwriter Patterson Hood’s sharp vocal delivery. 

Bassist Shonna Tucker sings the next song, “Dancin’ Ricky,” which she wrote and, later, “Where’s Eddie” which is a cover.  Tucker has contributed to both of their last two albums, with generally the same result.  Her songs neither add nor subtract from the CD, but stylistically her voice and the sparser musical treatment disrupt the vibe of the rest of the songs.  While she’s not the greatest singer, neither are her band mates, not that it matters. 

Songwriter/guitarist Mike Cooley used to write songs that paired nicely with Hood’s, forming an aggressive, belligerent rock attitude for the whole.  Tucker’s songs stand out less, because Cooley has apparently given up Rock and Roll for straight up Country & Western, the type that no one plays anymore.  It could be said that his lyrics fit the “She wrecked my truck so I slept with her best friend” songs of yesteryear, but his strength has always been in clever lyrics.  Here, he offers up “Cartoon Gold” and “The Weakest Man,” both of which contain his trademark humor, but which also suffer from a dulling sameness to his other recent songs.  He keeps to a formula, and the band sounds stuck in “just throw a tune at it” mode.  A much better result can be found in “Pulaski,” which sounds like all were more interested in elevating their craft that day.

This leaves a heavy weight on Patterson Hood to carry, if not lift, a full CD, which he has yet to prove. 

“Ray’s Automatic Weapon,” the fifth song in the set, is fairly representative of Hood’s recent contributions to the band.  Hood can write great narratives that slice and dice the Southern life that wise men seek to avoid, but they’ve been a hit or miss effort in large part because he’s never had a particular preoccupation with meter.  Like Cooley, Hood has tendencies which are beginning to sound all too familiar, with the lyrics either forced into a tune or, more commonly, presented without a memorable refrain or melody. 

Similarly, “The Fireplace Poker,” “The Thanksgiving Filter,” and “Mercy Buckets” each points toward a concerted effort at writing a good story, but musically, they’re forgettable songs.  It’s difficult to understand why, despite some excellent guitar work throughout the CD, DBT seems to be avoiding strong guitar leads or actual riffs, the very things that propel their concerts and earlier work.

Curiously, due to a sentiment that may become a crowd favorite, “A**holes,” (edited by my preference), has a lyric that begs for power chords and an all out Rock assault.  The title certainly suggests Hood is searching for an edginess that has been a trademark to much of DBT’s work; it’s surprising that the band doesn’t rise to the bait.

Two good things remain.  One is a cover of “Everybody Needs Love,” written by Muscle Shoals session musician Eddie Hinton.  The stylistic contrast here is much like John Lennon’s cover of “Stand by Me” if placed on Plastic Ono Band.  Well, okay, maybe that is overstated, but the song has a similar crisp uplifting pop sensibility that isn’t shared with the rest of the CD.  It’s enjoyable for what it is, but it doesn’t sound like the Truckers.  If the band is up for a stylistic change of pace, they only have to look to keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, who remains unappreciated throughout the CD’s mix.

The other good thing is a really good thing, “Used to Be a Cop.”  This has another lengthy narrative, but the story maintains interest.  More importantly, the phrasing allows Hood to work a vocal groove, and the band chimes in with ample electric and slide guitars.  If there were a couple female background singers and Mick Jagger at the helm, this track would qualify as Exile-era Rolling Stones.  Good stuff.

I’ll happily load the below onto my i-Devices, but otherwise… I’m done with this CD.

Recommended Songs: “Used to Be a Cop,” “Go-Go Boots,” “Everybody Needs Love”

2 of 5 STARS

Footnote: Five Stars for the cover and booklet artwork.

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