Drive-By Truckers, English Oceans

Holly George-Warren

By Holly George-Warren

on 03.04.14 in Reviews
Inching their way closer to literary lion-dom

In the past, the Drive-By Truckers have extolled the benefits of excess, touring as a sextet with a three-guitar lineup, even, for a time, incorporating a trio of distinct singer-songwriter voices (including Jason Isbell). On English Oceans, however, they’re a streamlined, two-guitar quintet. This pruning results in their most cohesive album since 2001′s superb Southern Rock Opera, with deep grooves courtesy of new bassist Matt Patton and more keyboard textures from multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez. Main songwriter/frontman Patterson Hood steps aside, as fellow DBT founding father Mike Cooley handles almost half the tunes — about twice as many as usual from the dark horse. His raw, Stones-y “Shit Shots Count” kicks things off with a distorted bang, while the exquisite character study, “Primer Coat,” nicely features his resonant baritone. Hood is consistent as ever, with the Crazy Horse-ish “When He’s Gone” keeping that bridge between Skynyrd and Neil Young intact, all while offering cinematic, insightful, novella-worthy lyrics detailing dysfunction from a woman’s point of view: “She scrubs in basins never clean, it won’t wash off the smell of compromise.” As on his solo work, Hood also excels in balladeer mode; his aching “Hanging On” is top-notch storytelling, and with their 12th album, the Drive-by Truckers inch their way closer to literary lion-dom by way of the roadhouse.