It's the mark of a truly great band, when, nine albums in, they're still spiriting up incredible music which somehow redefines them. So it is with Drive-By Truckers, and their latest full-length, Go-Go Boots.
Variously resident across Alabama and Georgia in the American South, the band was kickstarted 15 years ago by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, a chalk-and-cheese duo, who'd grown out of the Replacements-y punk rock they'd been pursuing thanklessly for the preceding decade. Instead, they plunged deep into the rootsy country/rock/blues traditions that had surrounded them natively all their lives.
They lurched on through poverty, divorce and folly (like their sprawling song cycle about Lynyrd Skynyrd), but it was while cutting their eighth record, 2010's The Big To-Do, that an intriguing new chapter in the band's history began. They were invited to record a couple of songs for a tribute to Eddie Hinton, a boundlessly soulful but troubled white singer-songwriter, who'd played alongside Hood's father in the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section, backing, amongst others, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and the Staple Singers.
Those tracks, the sublimely uplifting "Everybody Needs Love" and "Where's Eddie?" (sung originally by Lulu, here by bassist Shonna Tucker) complete the DBT picture of post-millennial Southern musical updating: Here, finally, they're bringing the soul.
Concurrent with The Big To-Do's flat-out rockage, the band started piecing together further mold-breaking tunes, which became Go-Go Boots. The results include pure country ("The Weakest Man," "Pulaski" — two gems from Cooley), gnarly murder stories ("The Fireplace Poker," "Go-Go Boots"), and two of Hood's most soul-baring compositions to date, "I Do Believe" and "Mercy Buckets." Between those bookend cuts lies a bona-fide classic.