Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Album Review: Drive-By Truckers - The Unraveling

Drive-By Truckers
The Unraveling 
****and1/2 out of *****

On the Drive-By Truckers previous studio release, 2016's American Band, the group tapped into the cultural zeitgeist in a dark year, crafting an album directly of it's time, but informed by years of pain, gun violence, red/blue hate and mental illness. It was an important album, but by design or not, it wasn't an album that inspired lots of repeat listens as the topics were weighty and the music just served the purpose of moving the vital stories along.

That topic of the bands musicality seems to be something they worked on as The Unraveling, keeps the focus directly on modern day USA, but the band has expanded their sonic palate to include fresh sounds engaging the listener with their modern day problems in yet another election year that deals with the exact same topics; pain, gun violence, red/blue hate and mental illness.

The album starts with a piano ballad accented by violins and light beats for "Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun" a classic Patterson Hood penned effort (by way of Bruce Springsteen) about escaping from one bad situation to another, only it excludes the bands patented three guitar attack. Fellow songwriter Mike Cooley's "Slow Ride Argument" puts his fury into a motoring road song which picks up the tempo.

Unlike recent albums which have seen more of a fifty/fifty split between main songwriters Hood and Cooley, this record is dominated by Hood's tales. "Heroin Again" and "Babies in Cages" switch up the bands musical sound while keeping current events front and center. "Heroin Again" pushes up the bass bumping and organ swells while "Babies in Cages" goes full on "Eminence Front" style with more of a dispassionate sense of futility in the vocals concerning the horrors at the border. 

Two more classic Hood numbers focus on current struggles. "Thoughts and Prayers" is a powerful straight ahead folk song which not only takes on the asshole politicians and their fear of the NRA, it also makes time for a bridge to tackle flat-earther's, while vilifying the uselessness of the title tandem before a perfect summation of the modern day malaise "21st Century USA", wishing for Amazon to deliver salivation after it's ordered on a mobile phone.

Cooley's "Grievance Merchants" spins a less successful look at Incels and internet trolls, combined with the dour nine minutes of "Awaiting a Resurrection" the album ends on an incredibly bleak note, but such are the times we live in.

All of this and we haven't even mentioned the brightest offering from the band this go around. The first single titled "Armageddon's Back In Town" which infuses the Truckers ominous bad decisions, and no win situations with an upbeat Tom Petty like rocker in stunning fashion. The Truckers haven't had a single like this in quite some years and make the most of it. 

While the band mentioned the long and drawn out writing process of the album they recorded with energy throughout. Even at four years removed, The Unraveling is a clear companion piece to American Band, as Hood mentioned:
"More heart and less cerebral perhaps…If the last one was a warning shot hinting at a coming storm, this one was written in the wreckage and aftermath.
That cultural fallout (or The Unraveling) will reverberate for years and thankfully the Drive-By Truckers will continue to be on of the best rock bands going, capturing, fears, dreams and dying hopes of a flawed nation and spinning them into sonic gold.
Support the band, buy the album and peep some video below:

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