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Monday, September 17, 2012

Drive-By Truckers -- Gangstabilly

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7/10

I will be blunt. I think Drive-By Truckers are one of the best rock bands of the last two decades. With that said, the band's first album, Gangstabilly, sounds like the debut of a really good, Southern Country Rock bar band.
What is Southern Country Rock? I'm pretty sure I just made that up. The way the Truckers blend country and rock on their first two albums isn't easy to describe, because some songs just sound like rock songs, some only sound like country, and some sound like a perfect combination of both. While the Truckers would become a rock band with slight country leanings from their third album on, the domination of country in their sound on Gangstabilly is impossible to ignore. They still rock out quite a bit ("Buttholeville" is blistering...wow, that sounded weird), but this is a band who has always made the music that comes natural to them, and who could care less about genre. Few people who like things in neat boxes will enjoy Drive-by Truckers, anyway.
Even with their sea legs not quite under them during Gangstabilly's recording, the Truckers show they are already quite capable of writing good songs, and telling good stories. Guitarist (one of two at this point) Mike Cooley's first songwriting contribution to the band, "Panties in Your Purse," is a great character portrait of a woman who just can't get it together.

Multiple songwriters/frontpersons would soon become one of Drive-by Truckers greatest assets, but Gangstabilly is guitarist Patterson Hood's show, as he sings lead through nine of the eleven tracks. A good deal of them sound just fine to me. "Wife Beater" is a fun, slow, sing-a-long stomp, a lament to a woman who chooses her violent husband over the "potato eater" singer...yes, I said "fun." "18 Wheels of Love" is a raucous romp about someone's momma running off with a trucker, and it showcases Hood's already well-honed skill with a punchline, "She can fix him roast beast and sweet potato pie/He can eat a lot of it 'cause he's a big ol' guy."
Gangstabilly
is topically a lot lighter than and even a little juvenile compared to Drive-by Truckers' later work. This makes sense, though. I like to think of this album as a teenager showing a lot of promise. If you want to know what makes this band special, you might want to start a little later, when they are all grown up. If you're already into them, though, you should get quite a bit of enjoyment checking out the way they strut their stuff as the new kid on the block. And if you go see them in a bar today, be ready to see a band that should be packing out stadiums.

1998 Soul Dump Records
1. Wife Beater 3:33
2. Demonic Possession 4:51
3. The Tough Sell 3:41
4. The Living Bubba 5:55
5. Late for Church 5:26
6. Panties in Your Purse 4:36
7. Why Henry Drinks 4:14
8. 18 Wheels of Love 4:10
9. Steve McQueen 5:12
10. Buttholeville 5:28
11. Sandwiches for the Road 6:33

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