Reviewed by: Jane Roser
It’s fitting that as iconic American rockers Drive-By Truckers prepare to celebrate their twentieth anniversary as a band, they would release their most important album to date.
Brimming with political and social commentary American Band explores themes of racial injustice, gun violence, political stupidity and the unwillingness of people to compromise or simply be compassionate towards one another. The Truckers don’t give a damn whose buttons they’ll push releasing this record because shit got personal and they’ve got something to say about it. Well, thank God.
Honest, visceral and packed with thorny wit, singer/songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley recorded their eleventh studio album at Nashville’s Sound Emporium under the helm of longtime producer/engineer David Barbe.
Lead single “Surrender Under Protest”, penned by Cooley and featuring DBTs signature wailing electric guitars, tackles political back and forth finger-pointing as “a selective means by which to point a view” while “Filthy and Fried” (and what would a DBT album be without some mention of the word ‘filthy’?) was a last minute inclusion about how relationships have evolved between men and women: “The old man’s world was more doing than thinking and the doing was more cut and dried/Now the girls collect trophies as much as the boys, and come home just as filthy and fried.”
One of the most important songs on the album (and the first to go public, resulting in several ugly fan comments) is “What It Means”, whose narrative describes the shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement: “He was running down the street when they shot him in his tracks/About the only thing they agreed upon is he ain’t coming back” and “I mean Barack Obama won and you can choose where to eat/But you don’t see many white kids lying bleeding on the street.” This could happen anywhere and it is. Fear and hatred have no boundaries and this song drives that point painfully home.
“Ramon Casiano” parallels “What It Means” in terms of theme, except that the real-life story took place in 1931 when a fifteen year old boy was murdered by Harlon Carter in Laredo, Texas. His murder convection overturned, Carter went on to become the head of the NRA and subsequently turned it into a powerful political organization: “one would fall and one would prosper/never forced to make amends.”
With an important presidential and senate election looming just weeks away, American Band takes a tough, hard look inward at a country built by immigrants that has since become non-inclusive and paranoid.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The Drive-By Truckers have taken up the challenge and are risking the controversy to speak their minds-and isn’t it great that we live in a country where they can do just that?