by carl wilson

6. Drive-By Truckers - Decoration Day

More subtly ambitious than last year's blatantly inspired Southern Rock Opera, there's a depth and maturity to this disc that's generously enhanced by the new songwriter and guitarist in the band, the boyish Jason Isbell. Named for the southern American occasion when ornaments are traditionally laid on the graves of the fallen, it is a concept album light-handed enough not to seem like one, about southern men, but not the kind Neil Young sang against. These are the men of the New South, with a newly cosmopolitan sense of life but a truckload of baggage -- which plays itself out in these songs about their daddies and mostly their male friends, and how the conflicts and impossibilities that arise in those dynamics, in the hothouse of Southern traditions and troubles, are apt to lead to an early grave. (The first tune is an exception, dealing with brother-sister incest, based on a true story, but that's not too far off from the theme.) But the main thrust is that, despite all the shrapnel exchanged in these relationships, the core of the "southern thing" they sang about on SRO is really all about love.

The Truckers' Skynyrd-meets-Replacements triple-guitar assault sounds ever-more like the most classic sound in current rock, with the Muscle Shoals bottom end that lead Trucker Patterson Hood comes by honestly, from his own father. If you hear it live, as I did for the first time this year, you can't forget the joyful noise that leavens all the darkness of this disc, which Hood has said springs from the strain the band members were under in the long gestation of the Opera, with families and finances in crisis. (They were rescued when a major label picked up the disc, but when Lost Highway heard Decoration Day they decided it was too much of a downer, and - with unusual grace - let the band buy itself out of the contract. They're now happily on New West.)

Yet for all the violence and despair here - there are several songs about suicide - they also prove true to their claim that "Southern men tell better jokes," with lines like "Rock'n'roll means well but it can't help telling young boys lies" and the fatherly advice, "Don't call what you're wearing an outfit/ Don't ever say your car is broke/ Don't sing with a fake British accent/ Don't act like your family's a joke." So the gothic elements are spiced with rue and sage, and the pain is worn as casually as a jean jacket, just part of the way things are.

A final note: It was a bit shocking at the end of the year to learn that bassist Earl Hicks had been summarily replaced with Jason Isbell's wife, but after some reflection - the kind this album naturally provokes - it seems to me that nobody can really judge what happens inside an intimate situation, whether a family or a band, unless you're one of the people involved. Every song on this disc reinforces the lesson that the wise outsider knows better than to argue or to judge.

On Record | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, January 10 at 1:23 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

COMMENTS

Google linked me to this page, nice reading

Posted by Andrew Lace on November 5, 2004 12:58 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson