When I was a little boy, one of my favorite movies was an old Disney classic The Song of the South. In the movie, Uncle Remus spun tales of characters’ trials and tribulations, of their ups and downs. He told stories about overcoming adversity and even – at times – succumbing to it. The stories were common in thread and held a sort of moral message, like an Aesop fable.
Enter the Drive-By Truckers’ masterfully crafted Go-Go Boots. Continuing a musical trend of late and invoking the glory days of vinyl (Note to aficionados: you can pick up the album on actual vinyl and in various collectors editions),tracks on the digital and CD versions of the album are also grouped into three to four song sides. These sides are generally focused around a central theme, but, at the same time, there is a distinct balance between members of the band; each singer or songwriter has his or her moment to shine. And, much likeUncle Remus’ tales, these are story-driven songs about the harsh reality of the"Dirty South."
Patterson Hood’s “I Do Believe” kicks the album still holding out for fresh air, this time with the main character grasping last hopes of a long-gone ocean breeze. The title track, another for Hood, conjures an eerie Southern scene that is all too familiar: the exploitation of religion for personal and sexual gain. Bassist Shonna Tucker gets her first turn on another character song in thevein of “I’m Sorry Houston” from Brighter than Creation’s Dark, and on her“Dancin’ Ricky,” I can literally picture poor Ricky in my head, his shirt too small for his bod, and diabetes catching up with him.
And perhaps that is where the greatness of Go-Go Boots comes through in spades. These are character songs. Cooley has his vague but beautiful country jingles, coming off with perfect timing (pun intended) on “Cartoon Gold” and “Pulaski,”both Southern tales that are heartfelt in banjo twang on the former and subtle backing hums on the latter. Hood, never one to shy away from a political stance, has his nouveau “That Man I Shot” and “The Home Front” moments on“Ray’s Automatic Weapon,” “Used to Be a Cop,” and “The Thanksgiving Filter,” asong that does a wonderful job of illustrating the frustrations of returning to the South to intermingle during the holidays. And Patterson’scharacter even forgets to smoke a fatty before settling down to Grandma’s turkey.
But the most beautiful moment on the album comes from a cover song. Eddie Hinton, a true character if ever there was one – prone to drastic ups and downs and fits of mania and depression – takes the posthumous cake with the Truckers cover of his “Where’s Eddie?” Tucker does the female voice poetic justice by conveying the heartfelt emotions thatpoor Hinton’s love must have felt as she searched for him out on the streets ofAlabama at sunrise. Where’s Eddie? He exists in the inner fabric of this record, and, if I had to venture a guess, I’d bet that wherever the hell he is, he’s smiling.
Go-Go Boots is out now on ATO Records.