When asked to think of the best band to have originated in Athens, GA, most people would answer R.E.M. because of its enigmatic front man Michael Stipe and its classic sound heard on such classic albums as Murmur, Document, and Automatic for the People.
However, now is the time to finally acknowledge another band that can be argued is as good as those college rock/alternative darlings. The band–Drive-By Truckers. Interestingly, the main reason both bands can be connected so closely is not because of a similar sound, the Drive-By Truckers are more Southern rock with a tinge of country thrown in, but because both musical acts are so consistent.
Yes, just like R.E.M, the Drive-By Truckers have been releasing fantastic albums for a while now. Unfortunately for the latter though, commercial success hasn’t been as great. Nonetheless, the beloved Southern Rock Opera and The Dirty South are considered by many critics to be as good as any R.E.M. recordings.
Hopefully, that commercial success thing will change now because the Drive-By Truckers’ latest release, The Big To-Do, is great and it showcases the band’s strengths to full effect. In fact, it is so good that it is bound to be considered one of the best rock releases of 2010.
The Big To-Do starts off with a bang with four rocking songs in a row that feature excellent guitar work by Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and John Neff. Best of all, while the three lead guitar attack leaves the listener breathless, it doesn’t detract from the songs’ honest lyrics.
“Daddy Learned To Fly” finds Hood singing about a child wondering why his father ran out on him and his family while “The Fourth Night Of My Drinking” deals with an alcoholic’s tale of a harmful bender.
This excellent beginning is a hard act to follow so it is understandable that the mid-point of The Big To-Do loses some luster. However, there still are some highlights such as Cooley taking over the vocals on the countrified “Get Downtown” and bassist Shonna Tucker’s tender lead singing on the ballad “You Got Another.” The latter is particularly stunning because of Tucker’s additional piano playing and Neff’s steel guitar work.
Things pick up once again on the cd’s last third and this is where the Drive-By Truckers prove how great they are. “After The Scene Dies” finds some excellent guitar riffing cascading against lyrics about the demise of a downtrodden musical venue while “I Told You So” is Tucker shining again as she channels early Chrissy Hynde. The next to last track, “The Flying Wallendas,” is also especially notable for its cinematic feel and the shimmering guitars that bring the song to a glorious close.
That said, some might find The Big To-Do a little downbeat due to its lyrical matter. Yes, the songs deal with troubled times of economic woes and broken families and relationships. Not exactly subjects many popular acts tackle anymore.
Nevertheless, this release speaks honestly of life in America for many people today. It is an album of the present and whether the Drive-By Truckers get the commercial success they deserve is immaterial. What is important is that they made yet another fine piece of music to add to their first rate catalogue and they prove they are one of today’s best rock bands–from anywhere.
Author – Todd Sikorski[Rating: 4.5/5]