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A Catchgroove Blind Spot: Drive-By Truckers – Getting Ready

July 27, 2022

I consider myself a musichead and I have a large and diverse music collection. However, I also recognize I have blind spots of artists/bands that I should be a fan of: critically acclaimed, popular/successful or similar to other artists/bands I love. I am not talking about someone I have never heard of, but rather someone I have heard of but for some reason have never listened to or have listened to, but they never clicked.

Catchgroove’s 4,000+ LPs, 3,000+ CDs and 200+ 45s.

A great example of one of my blind spots would be Pavement. I was aware of them back in the day, as they were a pretty big deal in the 90s. But somehow never listened to them. When Stephen Malkmus went solo I got hooked on him and then backtracked to Pavement and felt kind of dumb for missing that train in real time. This seems like an interesting enough topic for a special feature: A Catchgroove Blind Spot.

My debut of Catchgroove’s Blind Spotis the Drive-By Truckers (DBT). My wife saw they were going to be at one of our favorite breweries in Minneapolis: Utepils. They have always been on my list to check them out. With shorthand descriptions like they are the bastard love child of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Replacements, I should be a huge fan. They appear to be a country rock band with a punk rock attitude and progressive politics. Decided to get tickets to the show. In preparation for that show I decided to get schooled on their catalog.

Starting with their latest, Welcome 2 Club XIII – I like it and it has me wondering why I have not gotten into this band. The album sounds great. Great story telling, big riffs, infectious melodies. Brilliantly sloppy in a Neil Young & Crazy Horse sort of way.

Welcome 2 Club XIII (2022)

Reading up about the band, they have been focused on a contemplation of America’s flaws for the last few albums and Welcome 2 Club XIII represents:

…a detour, an opportunity to focus on the personal rather than the political for a while, and most of the songs are rooted in memory, a look into the past as a filter into the present.

Allmusic

Welcome 2 Club XIII is easy to play over and over and this will be on my best of 2022 list. I like it enough to commit to the vinyl.

But I can’t afford to get too into this album as I have bundle of studio albums to digest before the show. I am working through the studio catalog aimlessly (that is, not in release order).

Southern Rock Opera (2001)

I remember when this album came out and it got a lot of positive buzz. Per Wikipedia: “The album weaves the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd into a narrative about a fictitious rock band called Betamax Guillotine, whose story unfolds within the context of the South during the 1970s.” Concept albums rarely work, but this one does. It can be enjoyed song by song and it is not a slave to the concept. This begins an album hat trick set of releases (Decoration Day and The Dirty South) that established the band as something to be reckoned with.

Decoration Day (2003)

I actually have this album on CD, but forgot it was in my collection. Prior to purchasing Welcome 2 Club XIII, this was the only DBTs in my collection. This is considered Patterson Hood’s divorce album. He is quoted as saying: Decoration Day is “more or less … an album about choices, good and bad, right and wrong, and the consequences of those choices.” Although, it never clicked for me back in 2003 when it was released, it clicks now.

Gangstabilly (1998)

What an amazing debut, DBT remind me of a profane version of the Georgia Satellites – that is, playing red necks with an ironic wink. Highlights for me are “Steve McQueen.” I am old enough to know the accuracy of the lyric:

When I was a little boy I wanted to grow up to be
Steve McQueen Steve McQueen
The coolest goddamn mothefucker on the silver screen
(Yee-haw)

But it isn’t all fun and games, on the opening track “Wife Beater” they highlight the horror of domestic abuse.

The Dirty South (2004)

This might be my favorite in the back catalog so far. It has some great Jason Isbell songs. Well paced between the rockers and the more mellow tunes.

A Blessing And A Curse (2006)

After three masterpieces in a row (Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day and Dirty South), the band is still on a roll with their triple guitar/songwriter attack. They are showing no signs of weakening.

Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)

This is the most diverse sounding of the DBT albums so far. At points rocking and almost punk, but at other points pure country (“Lisa’s Birthday”). Isbell has departed, but his ex, Shonna Tucker, takes a few lead vocals.

Pizza Deliverance (1999)

This the DBT’s second album. Musically it sounds simplistic compared to what would follow it, but it is still good. This is where they sound like a country rock version of The Replacements.

The Big To Do (2010)

Wow this is a bleak one: a father abandoning his family, losing a job, alcoholism, hooking up with a hooker as a birthday gift, justified homicide, etc. It is kind of a millennial version of Springsteen’s The River, that is, the bleakness is transcendent.

Alabama Ass Whuppin’ (2000)

Wow – pure live cow-punk! This is a fun treat. Highlights for me were: the Jim Carroll cover “People Who Died,” “Steve McQueen” and “18 Wheels of Love.” Didn’t mean to be distracted by any of their live albums, but once I started this one I couldn’t stop.

American Band (2016)

I posted on DBT Facebook group about this quick tour of the DBT catalog that I am on. I mentioned that I was committed to listening to the whole catalog, but I was seeking advice on what to focus on and not breeze by any classics in my rush. This album was a frequent suggestion. The album sounds different (it certainly looks different without cover art from Wes Freed). I checked to see if it was produced by frequent collaborator David Barbe – it was. This is a band that loves the south, but isn’t blind to it’s dark side. They are political in the way Springsteen is political: they describe their neighborhood honestly, but not bitterly.

This album seems more serious and urgent – this was released in 2016 – the beginning of the age of Trump. They are not just their usual keen observers of their world, but now worried observers of their world. As the AllMusic review states the album: “is an op-ed column with guitars, and it presents a message well worth hearing, both as politics and as music.” The song “What It Means” is honest portrayal of current day racism without sounding preachy. I see why this album was frequently suggested by the DBT’s Facebook group.

Go-Go Boots (2011)

This band is remarkably consistent. 10 studio albums in and over a decade as a band and they are still delivering quality (remarkably 10 plus years later and 6 more studio albums later and I could say the same thing). This album is a bit mellower, but still has plenty of bite.

English Oceans (2014)

I am running out of things to say about this band. I love the opening track: hard rocking and fantastic horns (please show up in Minneapolis with horns!). A great long winded chorus:

Shit shots count.
If the table’s tilted, just pay the man who levels the floor.
Pride is what you charge a proud man for having.
Shame is what you sell to a whore.
Meat’s just meat and it’s all born dyin’.
Some is tender and some is tough.
Somebody’s gotta mop up and eat one.
Somebody’s gotta mop up the blood.

The New OK (2020 – October)

Overtly political, but I am OK with that given how artfully it is delivered. Sonically this album sounds different – still the DBT’s, but some alternative sounds. It includes a great Ramones cover (The KKK Took My Baby Away). Mike Cooley only gets one song: “Sarah’s Flame” which is a poke at Sarah Palin and how she set the stage to make Trump presidency possible.

The Unraveling (2020 January)

I probably should have listened to this before The New OK. They both came out in 2020 and to some extent The New OK represents songs the did not make it on this album. Again this political and sonically slightly different than the rest of the catalog – a bit more intentionally modern.

Wow is this a great band and I can’t believe I have never got into these guys. They check so many of my boxes:

  • Americana/country rock.
  • Lots of guitars (typically it is a three guitar attack like their heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd).
  • Traces of some of my favorites: Neil Young, Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt), Georgia Satellites, The Replacements, Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Springsteen-like narratives, The Faces swagger, Flaming Lips psychedelia, etc.
  • David Barbe production is perfect: no gimmicks, just bringing out the best of the band.
  • Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are wonderfully different songwriters and vocalist, yet totally complementary. The Jason Isbell era is delightful too.
  • A consistency from album to album – they don’t appear to have any duds in their catalog.

I mentioned earlier in this post that I posted on a DBT’s Facebook group looking for advice on what to focus on in such a large catalog. What I learned was that there are no duds in the catalog and I can certainly attest to that. I am now a fan and I am looking forward to going back and exploring the catalog at a leisurely pace. There are live albums and solo albums to explore. I am also looking forward to the live show – the Facebook group unanimously insisting it will be an revelation.

The show: The DBT live are everything I had hoped: fun, serious, great musicianship, energetic, earnest, etc. They played for two hours with a nice cross section of their catalog. They are dialed into the audience, but they don’t pander. As for horns, the road crew did double duty as a horn section! Here was the set list:

Shake and Pine
Birthday Boy
The Righteous Path
Women Without Whiskey
The Driver
Every Single Storied Flameout
Plastic Flowers on the Highway
Made Up English Oceans
Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun
One of These Days
Goode’s Field Road
Where the Devil Don’t Stay
Tornadoes
A Ghost to Most
Used to be a Cop
Three Dimes Down
Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
Slow Ride Argument
Let There Be Rock
Surrender Under Protest
Angels and Fuselage

After working through the studio catalog I was feeling a preference towards Mike Cooley’s songwriting and voice, but after seeing them live, no slight to Patterson Hood, just Cooley is my guy. He is the consulate cool rock guy on stage, not Keith Richards cool, but pretty damn cool. He is a great guitar soloist. He also has great hair (I am 63 year old bald guy with a ponytail – I am easily impressed).

The show was outdoors on a beautiful night. Utepils Brewing is experimenting as a concert venue. It is just a parking lot with a portable stage. But it worked well despite the simplicity. The beer helped.

I don’t think I have any great insights here. I just rushed through the catalog and wrote a few words about each release and provided a short show review. I have gone back to a few of the albums for second and third pass and damned if each listen they get better. Having studied the catalog positioned me well for the live show – I recognized most of the songs and they definitely played some of the songs that had resonated with me. Grateful to the DRIVE-BY TRUCKER Facebook group for all their fine advice and good vibes. I am now officially a Drive-By Trucker’s fan!

From → Music Reviews

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