by Jesse Hill
A cliché: There are two best friends, and boy, could they get liquored up, raise alotta hell, ball chicks, and have a laugh reliving it all the next morning over a bloody mary and a big ol’ plate of migas. But when one of them is catapulted into adulthood by, I don’t know, say, having a kid, going off to Iraq, or something along those lines, and the other has no real impetus for change, therein lies the biggest stress that the relationship between them will ever face. Oftentimes, it breaks it. Sometimes, however, both realize that the widening void between them doesn’t negate that their friendship is still as real and important as most other things. And as the one learns how to grow up from his newly-christened adult best-friend, the other continues to learn how to not take his adulthood so seriously from his freewheelin’ friend. And that is the interesting dichotomy that surfaces on the Drive-By Truckers’ seventh studio album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.
The friends are the Truckers’ principal and founding songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. While Hood’s fatherhood and Iraq inspired anthems stand in stark contrast to Cooley’s concise, more traditional songs to all things loved by good-timin’ Southern boys, the two batches of songs are not the alt-country equivalent of rap-duo Outkast’s two songwriters separate, two disc release the Speakerboxx/TheLoveBelow, for Hood’s and Cooley’s songs go together like the two sides of the same, reversible denim/flannel jacket. You have the denim side on when you listen to Cooley’s “Bob,” “3 Dimes Down,” and “Perfect Timing,” which invoke Willie, John Prine, Exile on Main Street Stones and so many things in between. (And if you don’t love Bob too, then please don’t call me friend.) You flip it to the flannel side when you listen to Hood’s Subterranean Dylan-esque “The Righteous Path” and the Neil Young & Crazy Horse like stadium anthem, “The Man I Shot,” a song that had it not been written and performed with such genuineness would seem like a ploy to break into the larger, overly-sentimental market. (By this, I only mean that it genuinely evokes the emotions that the larger, mainstream country market’s contrivances can only dream to.) It doesn’t matter which way you wear it though; the jacket keeps you warm. And to add to this warmth is new frontwoman, Shonna Tucker, whose songs, if almost a bit too indistinguishable from Lucinda Williams’, bring the dark, motherly magic our boys need to keep on getting along.
I’ll spoil my friendship metaphor of the duality of this album and its importance when I say this, but at the time of reviewing this album, I have to be honest and say that I was most won over by Hood’s batch of songs, most specifically “Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife” and “Daddy Needs A Drink.” I haven’t heard a song written within at least the last fifteen years that was connected as lyrically to the country tradition of the hardships of domestic life for born ramblers as these songs do, while maintaining relevance in modern times. Musically, they ride on brushed drums, a subtly picked banjo or gently played keys, and a wave of transcendental slide. They’re brilliant. And even if you haven’t experienced your catalyst for adulthood just yet, listen to these two songs, and you won’t think it’s too bad a thing any longer. Listen to the whole Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, and maybe you’ll see that the whole adulthood and childhood thing ain’t as black and white as some would have you think. May Hood and Cooley go for migas again soon, and I’ll be damned if I turn my back on a group of people that calls themselves the Drive-By Truckers.