Friday 3 August 2018
For an album that I bought as soon as it was released, I didn’t really get into this one until a good few months after. On first listen I really enjoyed the fact that there was a new Truckers album, that it was extremely political, and that the songs were good. Love the production, love the sound and arrangements. Just didn’t get into it as much as their earlier albums. In retrospect, I’d say it's their most robust effort since Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.
It wasn’t until I went back to Ireland in February to see my folks and for an Irish music festival with my bud in rural Donegal that I really dig into this genuinely excellent album. I had a great time back home, which was a heady mix of teenage joviality at the festival (getting stranded in a lock-in on the Atlantic coast, telling ghost stories in a graveyard with a bottle of rye, etc.) and the crippling depression of impending severe family issues.
When I fly home, it’s typically to Belfast or Dublin, followed by a 2 or so hour bus journey back to the border. There is minimal 3G/4G signal so, with that in mind, I download a few albums to listen to, rather than stream. One of which was American Band.
The album itself is one of their more concise efforts, at only 47minutes and 11 songs. Although it’s mostly heavy-hitting political stompers, there are a few more subtle tunes, like Ever South, which explores what it feels like to be an outsider and social outcast, travelling from region to region with the brand of a southern accent. When they played this live, we cheered at the bit about being Irish, but I assume it’s more of a subtle message about immigration and stigmatism than people would give the songwriter, Patterson Hood, credit for.
I recall reading the lyrics for What it Means as they were posted to the band’s Facebook page, just before to the release of the album. Drive-By Truckers have always been very left-wing and very political. From the very first album. I acknowledge that their lyrics often describe hardship and difficulties without directly addressing the causes or explicitly pointing fingers, but there are many songs where they straight up call out politicians. Fuck, one song is about Satan welcoming segregationist politician George Wallace to hell. When the lyrics of What it Means went up the backlash was divisive, typical of the polarising online vitriol of the pre-Trump election. I knew this was going to be heavy hitting album with a specific purpose. ‘Dance band of the resistance’ is a phrase that is used a lot with the Truckers. This album is the unabashed soundtrack of the resistance.
The album’s conclusion of Baggage had me an emotional mess. Right there on the spot, I googled the lyrics through broken 3G on the Ulsterbus 273 to Belfast. I was amazed as I read the song was inspired by Robin Williams, and his ultimately lost battle with depression. The song climaxes with an extended ethereal guitar solo over the chorus motif. When it ends, I’m left completely drained, sitting in silence, headphones in, on the bus.
Only one place to go from here. Hit play on the first song and just drink it in.