For more than 15 years now, Mike Cooley has played the quiet Drive-By Trucker. Onstage, he’s usually overshadowed by his co-singer/co-songwriter Patterson Hood, who plays the part of Southern rock visionary with impressive stamina. More often than not, Cooley simply stands stage right, laying down solid boogie-rock riffs and occasionally taking lead vocal. Yet much of the Truckers’ mythos rests on the contrast between the two songwriters and, more specifically, on the contrast between Hood’s artfully plainspoken lyrics and Cooley’s slyly impressionistic rebel poetry.
Incredibly, The Fool on Every Corner is only Cooley’s first album under his own name (Hood, by comparison, has three). Recorded during a recent solo tour, the set places his songs in a stark acoustic setting, with Cooley and his guitar accompanied only by the catcalls of the lively audience. “Cottonseed” and “Shut Your Mouth and Get Your Ass on the Plane” showcase his rustic tenor as well as his devil-may-care picking, the former a Truckers hallmark but the latter something new. Barebones versions of “Loaded Gun in the Closet” and “Cottonseed” reveal fully imagined lives rather than easy Southern archetypes, and Cooley adds new verses and new dimensions to “Three Dimes Down.” Away from the rock-and-roll drama of the Truckers’ three-guitar attack, these hard-bitten songs lose only a bit of their power but absolutely none of their purpose.