There’s a slight irony to the thought of a Drive-By Truckers greatest-hits album. The band’s aesthetic and ethics are connected to the classic rock era, when such albums made perfect sense, even as our modern pick-and-choose download days render greatest-hits records more difficult to justify. And yet this one just feels good: well sequenced, reasonably representative, the tracks chosen with care and thought.
That much is clear straight from the start: “The Living Bubba,” from 1998′s Gangstabilly, was the first song to suggest the DBTs were a force to be reckoned with. An ode to a fellow Georgia musician who was dying of AIDS, “Bubba” struck a deep and resonant chord with its chilling chorus, “I can’t die now, ’cause I’ve got another show to play.” Not surprisingly, the collection’s next revelation comes with the tracks from Southern Rock Opera, the double album that broke the band wide open in 2001. Certainly no DBTs hits collection would be legit without that record’s “Let There Be Rock,” in which lead singer Patterson Hood’s penchant for narrative storytelling collided head-on with an increasing turn toward anthemic songcraft. Hood’s longtime partner-in-crime Mike Cooley gets his due with the Stonesy rave-up “3 Dimes Down” and the country-fried “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” while most-valuable-alum Jason Isbell shines on “Outfit” (from 2003′s Decoration Day). A good argument could have been made for a nod to bassist Shonna Tucker (perhaps 2008′s “I’m Sorry Huston”), but ultimately Truckers’ core comes back to the passion of Hood’s lyrics and the band’s full-hearted playing. When he vows to stay on “The Righteous Path,” you know he means it, and when he foreshadows the coming of the Great Recession on the elegiac spoken-and-sung closer “A World of Hurt,” you know he’s gonna be right.