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  The Dirty South  
  The Drive-By Truckers  
  New West  
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If the South had a modern-day storyteller, I believe that role would be divided equally among the three highly talented songwriters in The Drive-By Truckers. Their sixth release, The Dirty South, reminds me of why they are one of my favorite bands. Listening to this album is like sitting at the foot of your old, slightly cantankerous southern uncle as he tells you about how Sheriff Buford Pusser got what he deserved or how them people over in Huntsville can put rockets on the moon, but can't manage to keep people downriver from getting sick. This album is gritty, edgy and has plenty of the great storytelling that people have come to expect from The Drive-By Truckers.

As frontman Patterson Hood has repeated several times in recent interviews, this album is less about the choices people make (which was a theme of their last album, Decoration Day) and more about what people do when those choices have been taken out of their hands. Violent tornadoes, crooked politicians, dry counties, the draft... how people deal with these things is a thread of continuity throughout the record, as we see both the good and bad sides of human nature surface in the wake of uncontrollable events.

The Truckers seem to be moving forward with their music. They stay true to what they know, and they do it well, without sacrificing the creativity or the listenability of their music. Fans of the Truckers will no doubt love this new record, and I've no doubt that new fans will flock in droves.

Production-wise, The Dirty South is very nice and smooth. One thing I really love about the Truckers' albums is that they make a point not to take out all the bits of conversation and random sounds. I can't explain exactly why, but it is endearing, not annoying. It contributes to the sense of the listener being told stories by real people. You don't get that sterile, prepackaged feel that some records have where each song is separated from the one following it. Instead, it makes you feel like you've been granted access to a bunch of guys recording a great album and having a hell of a time doing it.

So... enough philosophical bullshit. Simply put, this record rocks! I haven't had it out of my CD player for longer than a few days since I got it and I can't say that about many albums I listen to anymore. The mix of songs is also great. The rockin' tunes are interspersed with wistful ballads that leave you feeling slightly off guard until the next song rocks you off your ass.

Hmmm, maybe at this point I should say a bit about what kind of music this is. It's difficult to categorize for me. I suppose you could call it balls to the wall, southern rock that is kind of intermixed with twangy country inspired ballads (and waltzes!). Influences? Hell, I don't know. I've never been great at compartmentalizing bands into neat little musical boxes. And, The Drive-By Truckers in particular give me problems. I do know, however, that if you like loud guitars, excellent songwriting, and PBR, that you'll love this band and this record.

One thing I will say, though, is that it's nice that each of the three songwriters/singers (Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood, and Jason Isbell) get a pretty equal share of time on this record. Each one of them brings something different to the microphone and this gives a great versatility and depth to the album. You can see this in my favorite songs from the album, for instance: Where the Devil Don't Stay is a great song with heavy guitars and a great drum line fronted by Cooley's raspy vocals. Likewise, Danko/Manuel is a twangy song (and a waltz!) overlaid with Isbell's clear and expressive voice. As I've said in a previous review, his songs give me goosebumps, and this is no exception.

Patterson Hood's own high point comes when he fronts Boys From Alabama, a song about the redneck mafia. His voice-over at the beginning brings up comparisons to gangstah rap, southern style, then flows into a rollicking good old honky tonk song. Finally, Never Gonna Change adds a certain rhythmic flow to the entire thing. All the instruments, along with Isbell's voice, just seem to rise and fall in perfect cadence.

As for weaker moments, the only one I can point out is Sands of Iwo Jima. Admittedly, I love the lyrics and I love this song. Mostly. However, Hood's falsely high voice through parts of it just irritate me. I saw him sing this song live and he dispensed with the falsetto and it worked so much better. But, that's really it. Otherwise, the rest of The Dirty South is great.

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Despite the fact that several of the Minions enjoy this band, the only other release we have reviewed is an early live album called Alabama Ass Whuppin'.

We have reviewed them live several times, most recently in March of 2002, and going all the way back to the day after Thanksgiving in 2000.

If you check the Archives, there are reviews of a few shows from in-between those dates.


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