ALBUMS: Drive-By Truckers Get Unraveled

Defying the apocalypse, the Truckers take aim at today’s American malaise

Drive-By Truckers 2020. (Art: Ron Hart)

Artist: Drive-By Truckers

Album: The Unraveling

Label: ATO Records

★★★★ (4/5 stars)

Given their shifting line-up and a career marked by both determination and defiance, it would be tempting to interpret the title of Drive-By Truckers’ new album both literally and figuratively.

Despite a storied career that includes any number of epochs — their seminal effort Southern Rock Opera being an ideal foreword for a career seemingly plagued by the pitfalls that accompany a musical ebb and flow — their eventual triumph and tenacity have never been in doubt. Indeed, while this may be the band that gave Jason Isbell his head start to solo stardom, they never lingered long in his shadow following his departure. 

That then is is the hallmark of most southern rockers of classic proportions. While bands like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd provided the template for that so-called Southern Rock revival, today’s generation remains as feisty as their forebears, and certainly no less resilient. It’s little surprise that Drive By Truckers modeled Southern Rock Opera on a fictitious rock band called Betamax Guillotine, a group whose story was clearly inspired by the Skynyrd saga. Indeed, they’ve proudly paraded their Alabama-bred heritage ever since, given a sound that’s clearly contentious while also exceedingly reverent towards their down home designs. They’ve more or less continued to etch that legacy ever since, courtesy of the concept albums that followed, notably Decoration Day and The Dirty South

Drive-By Truckers The Unraveling, ATO Records 2020

The Unraveling is easily as sweeping as those other efforts in both scope or sentiment, creating an emphatic impression that directly confronts today’s modern American malaise. That tact is especially evident as ‘Armageddon’s Back In Town,’ ‘Babies in Cages,’ ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ and ’21st Century USA,’ all driving rockers that mourn the demise of safety and civility as well as the thoughts and precepts that this nation once held dear. That declaration of intent is laid out precisely on the opening anthem ‘Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun,’ a statement of purpose that suggests that The Unraveling is more than merely a set of solid songs. This is, in fact, an album with a depth and expression that drives the points home without question or confusion. Each of its offerings finds the band in a combative mood but still retaining a knack for nuance that leaves no doubt as to their stance or sentiment. They preface the music in the liner notes that accompany the album, decrying our new normal where babies are placed in cages and “the gold-plated toilet tweeting out lie after lie.

“No wonder people are OD-ing in record numbers,” they continue. “Who wouldn’t want to tune out during the deluge. It’s going to take more than thoughts and prayers to solve this shit.” 

Granted, that’s a harsh indictment, but it’s one echoed by many people of similar standing today. Protest music is needed more than ever these days, and it very well may take some sons of the south to stand up both for civility and civilization. When they declare they’re “seeking some salvation to the limits of my talents” on closing track “Awaiting Resurrection,” they provide the mantra we should all wish for. In that regard, The Unraveling holds it all together as well as can be expected.


VIDEO: Drive-By Truckers “Thoughts and Prayers”


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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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