Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008)

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photo by Jason Thrasher

by S. Victor Aaron

No band today epitomizes Southern rock more precisely than Athens, Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers. Sometimes they sound even more Dixie than Skynard, The Marshall Tucker Band or the Allman Brothers. Not only do they possess the rough and tumble sound of their forebears but they’ll often co-opt country, punk and folk in creating a sound that is as deep fried as poultry on a Sunday afternoon in rural Mississippi.

The band is the brainchild of lead songwriters, guitarists and vocalists
Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, who both came from musical families and both hail from the Muscle Shoals region of Northern Alabama. Most of the rest of the band has been changed out at one time or another; until 2006 there was even a third guitarist, Lynard Skynard-style. But the sound and vision has stayed pretty consistent.

Throughout all of their eight proper releases, the DBT’s have doggedly stuck to a single theme: what they once explained on the song “The Three Great Alabama Icons” as “the duality of the Southern Thing.” That means blowing up some Southern stereotypes and explaining the meaning behind others. But mostly, they mean to show that blue collar Southerners (or rednecks, as is often the case here) live more complex and often contradictory lives than what might be commonly believed. Today’s release is no different in that regard. It follows much of that same template established early on for all of their records.

But after being seemingly stuck on cruise control following the tour de force Southern Rock Opera (2001), Brighter Than Creation’s Dark reveals in many discreet ways that the Truckers are expanding their craft again. Hood and Cooley have long been masters at spinning tales of flawed Southern figures who are portrayed with neither much sympathy nor scorn, but something in-between. Their songwriting styles have always complemented each other and both have honed their craft further on Brighter, with Hood the plain-spoken sketcher of characters with little or no hope (“You And Your Crystal Meth,” “That Man I Shot”) and Cooley the clever storyteller (“Self-Destructive Zones,” “Lisa’s Birthday”).

However, the band’s principals have added more nuances in their songcraft and less heavy-handedness just for the sake of being heavy-handed. That is, they’re now mastering the nuances of setting the right tempo to match the subject matter. The Truckers still rock out Crazy Horse style when the need arises, but they’re understanding better the impact that lower-key songs in getting a point across, too. For example, compare the scowling, raucous “Why Henry Drinks” from their debut album Gangstabilly to Brighter‘s tender portrait of a family man needing a wind-down libation to deal with the stress of everyday life in “Daddy Needs A Drink.”

They’re also a little more serious minded; the days of blatant parody from the early days like “The President’s Penis Is Missing” and “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)” are far behind. Cooley’s two minute account of a middle-aged hetero man who never married in “Bob” has plenty enough wit for the whole album, though.

The other area of growth is the emergence of a third significant songwriting voice. Bassist Shonna Tucker, who replaced Earl Hicks around 2003, contributes “I’m Sorry Huston,” “Home Field Advantage,” “The Purgatory Line” and ” and provides the lead vocals to them. And her harmony of proves to be the perfect companion to Hood’s hoarse, high-pitched voice. As it turns out, Tucker’s drawl is also just as heavy as Hood’s, sounding a lot like another Tucker: Tanya.

The Truckers often wear their influences on their sleeves and it’s easy to imagine “3 Dimes Down” as a Faces tune sung by Mick Jagger, or “Righteous Path” and “That Man I Shot” as lost Tom Petty songs or “Perfect Timing” a forgotten Johnny Cash track. But these are songs that would rank among the better ones of these legends if it came from them instead.

The album also gets a lift from the guest appearance of legendary Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham, to whom this CD is dedicated. Spooner provides a delicate, precise counterweight to the band’s often rough edges, as in the warm electric piano he provides to “Daddy…” or the trademark Nashville piano tinkling along the edges in the quietly surreal “Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife.”

There are nineteen songs in all on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. That’s enough to fit on two vinyl platters, and the double-vinyl version of this record will roll out in a couple of weeks. Hood has noted that a dozen of these songs were introduced during 2007’s The Dirt Underneath tour, and while there’s nary a clunker in this entire lot, the album might have been consistently better without the extra six or seven tracks. It’s hard to hold listeners’ interest for this long and about two thirds through the CD starts to sounds tired and redundant. But there are more good-to-excellent songs on this release than any other DBT album save for Southern Rock Opera. The Drive-By Truckers is an already really good rock band that ten years after their first record are still getting better.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

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