Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

written by: January 19, 2011
Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots album cover Release Date: February 15, 2011

★★★½☆

Drive-By Truckers are bringing it all back home, sweet home. Channeling its native Muscle Shoals sound, the band paints that swampy Alabaman intersection of Soul and Country music lore. Eddie Hinton, a guitar legend of the local sound who passed away in 1995, serves as a muse to the album. Go-Go Boots features two Hinton covers, the first time Drive-By Truckers has tackled unoriginal material on a studio release.

Go-Go Boots is dirty, brooding and thoughtful Southern rock.

The band has abandoned overproduction in favor of a raw, wholesome and warm vintage sound. The guitars are imbibed with raunchy slides and heart-wrenching fire. The banjoes are plucked in a corner, behind the spoons. Each song on the album has the feeling of a live, one-take performance, the genius of Hinton’s production.

In a nation plagued by lifeless “beers and tears” pop country music (that sounds more like a parody of itself than a subsistent genre) Drive-By Truckers has a refreshingly down home sound. This is honest, for the most part, upbeat honky tonking. One can’t help but do a little ho-down along to the sticks of “Cartoon Gold.”

Drive-By Truckers have garnered the critical title “Alternative Country.” Though it may be cringe-worthy, what else do you call something that isn’t mainstream and yet undeniably country music? This is a band that first garnered renown in 2001 for their work Southern Rock Opera chronicling the rise and fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both bands sweat native pride with an ear for long-form ballads of the common man, but the difference is there’s no sentimentality with the Drive-By Truckers. The truth, no matter how ugly, is the unerring palette of the Truckers.

Lead singer Patterson Hood pours his bleeding heart out in “The Fireplace Poker,” a dynamic performance worthy of note. The lyricism is old-timey and frank. His husky, Southern drawl lends itself to the sweaty feel of Go-Go Boots. The understated harmonica beneath his whine paints a bleak night sky, viewed from a country porch.

This is wide-open music, imbibed with the surreal Alabaman landscape of swamp-moss and cotton plants.

The most stellar moments on the album are in the troubled, dystopian invocations of Southern Gothic. Mike Cooley calls “Used to Be A Cop” a tale “of paranoia and suspense.” It doesn’t pull any punches, “I had a car but the bank came and took it/ Payin’ for a house that that bitch lives in now.” The characters are at times frighteningly real, capable of unspeakable cruelties and somehow never beyond sympathy. We might all know the kid from the titular track that, “Got some girl pregnant when he was sixteen/Workin’ for McDonalds, pumpin gasoline.”

“Everybody Needs Love,” one of the Hinton covers, infers just what it says. It’s a little uninspired, if not altogether tired statement of a song. There’s an invariable backbeat to each track on the album, everything’s got a little ramble-tamble, which is addictive but numbing. Sometimes you just want them to slow down, to dwell on the complex issues they present; murder, gun-ownership, rape and cuckolding to name a handful. On each of the songs, narrative is constructed plainly by the singer with reckless abandon toward exposition. What was the protagonist shooting at in “Ray’s Automatic Weapon” that was “all too real” to the point he can’t go on?

Go-Go Boots ends with the crescendoing, reverend gospel of “Mercy Buckets,” where Hood promises, “I will be your saving grace.” This is unashamed Americana, fearlessly parading our roots. Unfortunately, the antiquated nature of the music has kept it all but nostalgiac in our country and the band is actually more beloved among European audiences. While the album never achieves something magical, suffice to say it is dirty, sexy and everything we like to idyllically envision about the South.

Go-Go Boots Tracklisting

  1. I Do Believe (3:33)
  2. Go-Go Boots (5:38)
  3. Dancin’ Ricky (3:28)
  4. Cartoon Gold (3:15)
  5. Ray’s Automatic Weapon (4:27)
  6. Everybody Needs Love (4:38)
  7. Assholes (4:41)
  8. The Weakest Man (3:21)
  9. Used To Be A Cop (7:05)
  10. The Fireplace Poker (8:16)
  11. Where’s Eddie (3:03)
  12. The Thanksgiving Filter (5:37)
  13. Pulaski (4:26)
  14. Mercy Buckets (5:24)
  • Mike

    Taylor,

    The bad news first: Some fact-checking may have served you well before publishing this review. First of all, this is not the first time Drive-by Truckers have recorded covers. For example, their versions of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Rebels”, Warren Zevon’s “Play it All Night Long” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” can be found on the 2009 rarities collection ‘Fine Print’. Furthermore, ‘Southern Rock Opera’ was originally released in 2001 on Soul Dump Records and re-issued in 2002, not 2005, on Lost Highway Records.

    On a much brighter note, I totally agree with your assessment of Modern Country. It is Pop (or so close to it that it’s almost impossible to distinguish the two horrible genres from each other). And even though I’d never call myself a Country fan, I am a Drive-By Truckers fan and I’d say they are much closer to real Country music than 99% of the “artists” you’ll hear on any mainstream Country station. It’s a shame these guys don’t receive more radio play or exposure in general. Then again, it’s hard to categorize this band. They don’t like being called Southern Rock and they really are too Rock to be considered a straight-forward Country band, but I also think Alternative Country is poor label for them as well. Besides, Drive-By Truckers are too talented and honest to be lumped in with the flavor-of-the-week crap that’s played on mainstream Country radio anyway.

  • Wicked

    I am a solid Drive-By Truckers fan, and I have never ever been a fan of 99.9% of what has passed or passes now for “country music.” While the Truckers may not appreciate being labeled Southern Rock, they could do much worse — and the company there ain’t at all bad.

  • ace

    I’ve been a huge Truckers fan for 10 years but this is by far their worst release. It seems too forced and phony. Patterson sounds as though he’s reading a script he’s traded quality for quanity by releasing an album a year of mediocre (at best) material.

    • the cap

      wow really? I felt that way about the last one, this seemed a return to form.