Adam's House Cat - Town Burned Down - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Adam's House Cat - Town Burned Down

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2018-09-21
Adam's House Cat - Town Burned Down
Adam's House Cat - Town Burned Down

In the pre-dawn of their ultimate founding of American rock band Drive-By Truckers, college roommates Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley formed their first band in Florence, Alabama.  Thirty years on from Hood and Cooley’s original meeting, Hood would return to the same campus to give the commencement speech and challenge the graduates to not let fear get in the way of their dreams.  Of the countless kids who have a dream to play pro sports, become a movie star, or play in a rock band, Hood and Cooley threaded the needle and made it happen.  Through hard work and up against their sometimes unflattering portrayal of the Deep South they still lived and performed in, the duo persevered through multiple incarnations and break-ups (both personal and professional).  The first of these iterations, with Hood as sole songwriter and vocalist, was known as Adam’s House Cat.  With Hood and Cooley on guitars, the two were joined by Chuck Tremblay on drums and John Cahoon on bass.

The original group recorded one album in 1990, at the larger annex to the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (Hood’s father, David, was co-founder of the studio and played bass in the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section).  The never-released sole Adam’s House Cat album, Town Burned Down, has become something of a blend of myth and legend as is appropriate for the region it was born of.  Somehow the tapes survived and resurfaced a few years back, even though the original mix was destroyed when a tornado plowed through the building it was stored in.  Disasters, both natural and manmade, populate Drive-By Truckers’ songs so it’s only fitting to be part of their musical legacy as well.  Almost three decades later, the album has been remixed and is finally being released.  Well, sort of.  Never happy with his original vocals, Hood re-recorded his parts.  But doing so in a brisk two-hour session the urgency of his voice matches the music.

Not nearly as loose and shambling as Drive-By Truckers’ first two studio albums, Town Burned Down, shows the young band urgently snarling through a dozen tracks.  Even in his young twenties, Hood’s songs are populated with the hallmark self-loathing, violence, busted relationships, crooked politicians, and “gotta get out of this town” themes that would go on to characterize DBT’s albums.  Opening with ‘Lookout Mountain’, that would resurface in both live and studio DBT albums, Hood wonders about “who’s gonna pay for my mistakes?” after he flings himself off the mountain of the song’s title.  Though it would take DBT several years to get to their trademark three guitar Wall of Disenchantment, the song burns at an intensity you might not expect.

Only living a few miles from where he was born, the title song and several others have Hood longing to get out of Dodge.  The most accessible of these is the “should have been a single” ‘Runaway Train’ with its chiming guitars and classic hook.  The song also cleverly parallels a relationship going off the rails - “boring nights with the TV on” to “stinkin’ fights on the telephone”.  The similarly titled ‘6 O’Clock Train’ has a John Cougar Mellencamp like crunch to it, and Hood observes “they persecute you if you’re different” showing him early on championing the disenfranchised.  The most ferocious of these get out of town tunes is clearly ‘Buttholeville’, which also has resurfaced as a DBT take.  Hood is at his most detailed lyrically here, and the band kicks up a lot of dust in their threat to hit the highway.

Elsewhere, the band really cooks on the nostalgic ‘Long Time Ago’, which has a bass line reminiscent of Steve Miller’s ‘Swingtown’, but is also one of the best songs here.  Hood also serves up some of his trademark rotten characters, with the mother at the center of the Bo Diddley beat of ‘Child Abuse’ being right up there.  ‘Kiss My Baby’ tears down a dirty politician and also points most to the DBT sound of the future.

Nothing here totally clunks, and for a band just starting out, they are much closer to the end product than most any other group’s formative “unreleased” works.  Setting aside the fact that Hood re-did the vocals, it’s a bit surprising that this wasn’t picked up by some label at the time it was done.  Unlike the Southern idiom that the band takes its name from, you can clearly see from Hood’s insightful lyrics and the urgency of the playing that the foundation is here for the future.  It’s not even a total stretch to think these young men, in Hood and Cooley, could go on to crank out a classic run of albums over the course of “the aughts” starting with Southern Rock Opera.  If anything the band’s observations have evolved to have more of an outward focus as they have matured, but the fire is easily observed.  Drawing a line from Town Burned Down to 2016’s outstanding American Band, the band is at its best when it has something to be rightfully pissed off about.  And given that DBT’s last album was released pre-election, there’s an endless supply of fodder for the cannons to keep them going.             

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