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The Unraveling (Vinyl)
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Vinyl, 31 January 2020
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Drive-By Truckers’ 12th studio album and first new LP in more than three years – the longest gap between new Drive by Truckers albums – The Unraveling was recorded at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis, TN by Grammy® Award-winning engineer Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Margo Price) and longtime DBT producer David Barbe. Co-founding singer / songwriter / guitarists Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood both spent much of the time prior doing battle with deep pools of writer’s block. The songs that eventually emerged are among Drive-By Truckers’ most direct and pointedly provocative, tackling the myriad horrors of our new normal through sincere emotion and unbridled heart. Indeed, Armageddon’s Back in Town takes a whirlwind joyride through the whiplash of events we collectively deal with each day while the concluding Awaiting Resurrection dives headfirst into the despair and pain roiled up by these troubled times. The remarkable songcraft found on The Unraveling receives much of its musical muscle from the sheer strength of the current Drive-By Truckers line-up, with Hood and Cooley joined by bassist Matt Patton, keyboardist / multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez, and drummer Brad Morgan – together, the longest-lasting iteration in the band’s almost 25-year history. The LP also features a number of special guests, including The Shins’ Patti King, violinist/string arranger Kyleen King (Brandi Carlile), and North Mississippi All-Stars’ Cody Dickinson, who contributes electric washboard to the strikingly direct Babies In Cages.
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Patterson Hood is angry, and these are some of his angriest songs for many a year. But this isn't the young man's anger of Putting People on the Moon - this is middle-class anger. Babies In Cages just might be the angriest song he's written, or it might be Awaiting Resurrection. But it's a "sitting in the armchair having a nice mug of cocoa" type of anger. The lyrical bite is still there, but it's not quite as sharp as it used to me. The loud, rocking guitars have given way to a few gentle strums on an old acoustic. Old man's anger. (Hey, they should call their next album that...) A few other songs are nice enough, but they're going over new ground, there's nothing here that's essential.
Cooley, on the other hand, contributes only two songs, and the second, grievance Merchants, is truly terrible. No longer is Dancin' Ricky the worst song in the DBT catalogue.
Both English Oceans and American Band grew on me with repeated listens. I really hope this one does too, but I don't hear enough to it to keep me listening. It's a shame, but if this is the best they can come up with after 3 years away, something really has unravelled.
DBT haven't been the same since they kicked Jason out of the band. Their music has just gone from bad to worse.
They need a decent singer and music with a lot more tune. This album is a wall of noise, with an old fella droning-on about how bad life is. Makes Ozzy Osborne's Suicide Solution sound upbeat. Think DBT have gone further than they should have. Time to "call it a day" guys.