The Drive-By Truckers' Universe
by Jason Gubbels | June 27, 2013
Jason Isbell's new album, Southeastern, is more than a strong batch of country-inflected folk balladry: It's another chapter in the story of Alabama's Drive-By Truckers, even though Isbell hasn't been a member since 2007. Over 15 years, a set of expert songwriters has sustained an especially thoughtful and rocking outfit, dedicated to unraveling what leader Patterson Hood describes as "the duality of the Southern thing."
Now nine studio albums deep, the catalog of the Drive-By Truckers (DBT for short) encompasses wooly riffs, piss-and-vinegar snapshots of blue collar life, encomiums to legendary Southern musicians, and shaggy dog tales from kudzu-covered dive bars. We've assembled a DBT playlist showcasing multiple deep cuts, along with choice picks from solo ventures by Hood, Isbell and Mike Cooley.
But this playlist also places the band in its proper, history-loving context. References to musicians past and present are sprinkled throughout the DBT corpus, from songs remembering the night G.G. Allin came to town to double albums in honor of Lynyrd Skynyrd. And when the band backs up Southern soul legends like Bettye LaVette or Booker T. Jones, there's clear logic at work; Patterson Hood's father, David, was a member of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section ("The Swampers" memorialized on Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama"), meaning he had a hand in classic Atlantic and Stax soul sessions (fellow Swamper Spooner Oldham, organ-player for everybody from Percy Sledge to supposed Skynyrd-baiting Neil Young, would become an honorary DBT member).
This band also wears its influences on its impassioned sleeve. Hood makes clear his debt to and love for obscure acts like Cowboy and Eddie Hinton, even while worshipping Tom Petty (whom DBT eventually toured alongside). Isbell penned a heartfelt tribute to The Band's Rick Danko and Richard Manuel; Hood composed "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" following the brutal murder of House of Freaks' Bryan Harvey. And any committed fan can regale you with tales of legendary DBT concert versions of other artists' songs, in which Tom T. Hall, Warren Zevon and Jim Carroll compositions were so thoroughly reclaimed by the Alabamians one might suspect they'd been especially written for them.
So, yeah, it's been a long road since this guitar army was releasing albums titled Pizza Deliverance. It's time to catch up. Here's a broad overview of the influences, obsessions, hits and curios from these proud ambassadors of the Dirty South.