written by Chris Familton
Drive-By Truckers return with their tenth album, a landmark in any band’s history, proving that they are still remarkably consistent with their quality control and ability to create musical stories that captivate and enthrall the listener.
This time round The Big To-Do loosely deals with crime and (self)-punishment but these heavy subjects don’t necessarily translate into a weighty or depressing listen. Instead the songs weave a winding trail through various characters and situations with the keen eye of observation. You feel like you are learning about the people and the places without having to share the pain.
The songwriting is again split between Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Shona Tucker and all three deliver standout moments. Hood’s The Wig He Made Her Wear is a snaking, ominous track riding on a dirty groove. It isn’t often the Truckers sound this dark and sexy but Cooley’s chugging guitar and the drumming of Brad Morgan take the song of a murderous court case to a remarkably infectious place as it rolls on effortlessly.
On You Got Another Tucker takes the band to orchestral country-pop territory with the gently swelling keyboards and a funereal pace that just seems to rise and rise over five minutes. Her voice isn’t overly strong but she uses her sweet tone to great effect with the result not dissimilar to Jenny Lewis.
Cooley tends to comes from a rawer roots place with his songwriting and though the upbeat rock n roll moments he contributes are all good, his piece de resistance is the glorious closing track Eyes Like Glue. It’s a beautiful father and son moment with Cooley giving advice to his doting boy while Wurlitzer and pedal steel gently rise and fall in the background. So many great songs get buried at the end of albums so here’s hoping this one is given its due, or at worst, is a hidden gem for listeners.
Recording recently with Booker T for his solo album Potato Hole has undoubtedly added to the overall sound of this record. The new songs sound more lived-in and the country-rock arrangements more structured and carefully laid out. In the past the band at times sounded overblown like they were pushing the music along but on The Big To-Do the songs flow naturally and there is self-determination in their pacing.
Drive-By Truckers have dabbled in thematic albums and rock operas of a southern sort but here they have stepped back from the grander statements and delivered a solid collection of great songs. Like Richmond Fontaine their stories grow richer and more poignant with each album and like Wilco they have now well and truly settled into a stable line-up which is certainly reflected in the nature and feel of The Big To-Do. Fans will love the new record and newcomers will marvel at the many songwriting highlights.
this review first appeared on FasterLouder