Drive-By Truckers: Go-Go Boots (Album Review)

February 22, 2011

Just like the artist from the last album review I posted (Talib Kweli), Drive-by Truckers are back with another full-length album less than a year after their last one. DBT’s output has been both perpetual in frequency and consistent in quality over the past few years. Go-Go Boots, their ninth studio record, is a quieter more story-driven album than last year’s The Big To-Do. That record pealed back the stories, decreased the word-count of Hood’s sometimes wordy lyrics, and turned up the amps to showcase noise and rock riffs. It was a solid, wonderful record, though not quite the classic its predecessor (Brighter Than Creation’s Dark) was. Go-Go Boots is a showcase of how great the current line-up of DBT is as a unit, arguably the best the group has been in organization in its entire history as this third record with Shonna, Patterson, and Mike splitting song-writing, vocals, and POVs continues to prove.

Patterson still leads the charge by penning the most songs on the record, and its again his work that structures and glues the concepts together across this 14-song album (spread across two 180-gram LPs if you snagged the vinyl, again worth it in that the background instruments and chords sound great, especially in songs like album-opener “I Do Believe,” which works on Mp3 or CD but in such formats the chords noticeably wash together to sound a bit too flat, more like punk that the hybrid of Americana-punk-soul-country-blues-rock that this stuff actually is). “I Do Believe” is a sunny, pop-inflected southern rock song that sounds like the Eagles and the Beach Boys got together in Alabama. The title track, “Go-Go Boots,” is a Story song (emphasis on capital Story) like middle-period Dirty South-era Truckers. It’s an enjoyable story, but it’s repeat value is somewhat limited because there is no hook or chorus, just an interesting tale that you likely don’t want to hear too many times on repeat; the band give it some grace by layering the background with great noir-ish punk-country chords. Shonna’s first song, “Dancin’ Ricky,” is a beauty vocally. She sings stronger with each song she leads on, with such a sweet and pretty voice tempered with a personable and unashamed accent that draws out her geography and character. She sings “Ricky” with such heart that it may take a few spins to listen to the lyrics–a surprisingly heartfelt portrait of an obese man who loves to dance at parties unhindered by his less than attractive appearance on display from clothes that don’t fit. Shonna doesn’t let him off the hook–“your shirt’s too damn small for your body,” but doesn’t neglect the character his dignity–admonishing him to watch his health, keep his diabetes in check because he has “plenty of moves left to do.” Anyone who has ever been to a small town party or bar knows the Ricky character. The Truckers never fail to give the protagonists of their songs, those never close to perfect humans, a dry warmth and appreciation of their inherent dignity. Afterall, like any great southern writers, the Truckers are trying to give voice and presence to creations modelled after the sort of people  they grew up around and sometimes still live near, the type of people rarely treated by any other medium and never with as much care. Of course, there are just slimy characters to sing about here as well. Not just the murdering preacher from the title song, but yet another murdering preacher in “The Fireplace Poker” (and last album around in “The Wig He Made Her Wear” we had the inspired- by-true events story of a preacher murdered by his wife–I’m sensing a theme of distrust of small-town southern preachers in the latest DBT work!). “Fireplace Poker” is downright eery; a bloody, creepy, crime tale that is pitch black and suffocating within its subtle country gothic chord trappings.

This album also contains two Eddie Hinton songs the band originally did as 45 singles promoting that troubled artist’s artistic genius and underexposed career. Hinton was an Alabama musician who played on the Staples singers “I’ll Take You There,” co-wrote “Breakfast in Bed” (a hit for Dusty Springfield and also UB40), and released two critically praised country-soul albums of his own. The band rocks the country soul sound excellently on their cover of his “Everybody Needs Love,” a great, positive, catchy song with Patterson’s best vocals on the album, a song which serves as the centerpiece to all the troubled tales which surround it; the other Hinton number, “Where’s Eddie” was written by Hinton as an attempt to speak from the POV of the nurse looking for him while he was out of his room during one of his frequent periods of institutionalization. Shonna sings it with wit, warmth, and soul.

“Used to be a Cop” and “The Thanksgiving Filter” were released as singles for the fall World Record Store Day in November and fit in nicely as part of the overall album; “Cop” is another long story song, this one with more replay value than the title track, with hints of hooks and a thudding bassline  that builds up the tension the protagonist feels; “Thanksgiving” is an honest and cynical appraisal of the holiday visits with family. Like “Cop,” “Ray’s Automatic Weapon” is about a man facing down demons he thought he could kick with age only to find them getting worse. He calls a friend to come take his gun because his nightmares continue and “the nights ain’t getting shorter, only my patience and checkbook and fuse.”

Mike Cooley once again is outnumbered by Patterson in terms of the amount of output, but he makes up for that in terms of quality. Cooley’s songs should be on maintream country radio, but I guess it’s fortunate for those artists that they aren’t because they’d put those artists to shame. His voice is classic country perfect, and his songs have catchy country-beats and rhythms, but he fills them with such simple yet profound observations and literate detail that he transcends the genre. “Pulaski” is a sad but pretty tale of a college girl not too thrilled with the world she found away from home; “The Weakest Man” sounds like a country hit from the 1970s, lost but now resurfaced, a break-up story of timeless appeal; “Cartoon Gold” is trademark Cooley humor and atmosphere.

Yeah, there are a few more songs here too; they’re also good. This record is really a good record–some songs get better with repeat listens, truly sinking in, other songs (primarily the story-heavy ones) are best on early listens but hold up for other reasons even when the story has been told. A record that shows the Truckers are still on track as a band that matters, as a band deserving all the heaps of critical acclaim they get from disparate sources and the cries of their overall importance; a band that still won’t earn anything close to mainstream appeal, but who can truly accomplish such a thing nowadays while still staying true to characer and identity, geography and texture, culture and sound anyway? Let’s just hope they keep a solid dependable following to support them through a dozen more albums this good or better.

Rating: 9/10

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One Response to “Drive-By Truckers: Go-Go Boots (Album Review)”

  1. […] not much to add regarding this pick that I didn’t mention in the glowing review I gave it upon its release back in February. It’s simply another great DBT record. It doesn’t […]

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