Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans

by Hiro Master Rating:8 Release Date:2014-03-04

While some bands mellow, Alabama’s finest, Drive-By Truckers, are not ready yet to contemplate lazy days sitting on the porch. On this 12th album, the promise of another blast of rock ‘n’ roll begs the question: when have they ever not been straining the Marshall amps?

The USP of this album is, for the first time, a split in the songwriting duties between the great Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. The latter's creative juices had dried up for a while but this 50/50 split showcases two great songwriters entirely capable of making you forget that Jason Isbell was once in the band.

This album is full of great, kicking rockers like the opening track, ‘Shit Shot Counts’, ‘When He is Gone’, and ‘Hearing Jimmy Loud’.  In terms of the band’s explosive live act, they all will pin the audience to the wall at the back of the theatre with these songs. As ever, though, it is when you head towards the more Americana-based, rootsy DBTs that you find the real rewards.

Thus the excellent almost-title track, ‘Made Up English Oceans’, has a backbeat like rawhide and lyrics which attack Republican values; a perennial target of Cooley and co. The same singer’s vocal snarl is well employed on Hood’s ‘Till he’s dead or rising’, a sub-Stones mid-paced rocker showing that perhaps Jagger and Richards would be well advised to pick up the phone and call both of them. Hood matches this on the swagger of ‘Natural Light’ a slow blues song which witnesses some of his best singing in years, while the shuffling alt-country of ‘First Day of Autumn’ is stunning.

The songs which may have the longest shelf-life are both Cooley’s. First, the slow acoustic ballad ‘Holding On’, which trawls his darkest thoughts, while the great closer ‘Grand Canyon’, stretching to nearly eight minutes, is the band at its best. It’s dedicated to Craig Lieske, known affectionately by as Graytoven, who sadly died last year at the age of 46 from a heart attack. He was the band’s merchandise specialist and often jointed them on stage.  The tribute culminates with the poignant line: “In my dreams I still can see you/ Flying through a western sky/ and I think about Grand Canyon/ I lift my glass and smile”

English Oceans is yet again an effortless and brilliant album by one of the American best bands of the past two decades. If you are new to them you can very profitably start here. If that also means you have yet to hear either The Dirty South or the Southern Rock Opera, this reviewers envy is deepest green.

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