In music, we can escape the cruelties of the world or face them. There’s no wrong way about it, but recently the members of Drive-By Truckers, a band that’s long toed the line between a good time and a hard look at life, found they could no longer work purely in metaphor. American Band holds a direct mirror to a set of realities in this country with the same grace and rough-hewn wisdom that’s guided the band all along. But in this compulsion to speak to the right now, there is an anger behind these songs never heard before.
In an emotional performance at the NPR offices, Patterson Hood’s gravelly voice — capable of the quietest coos and the loudest hellraising — finds a new space, one that’s shaken and vulnerable. He sings both “Guns Of Umpqua” and “What It Means,” songs not just about gun violence, but about the persons it affects: The former is about the horrific shooting at Umpqua Community College in rural Oregon last year, and the latter about the killing of young black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Before performing “What It Means,” Hood tells the audience, “I wrote this song a couple years ago. I’d honestly be really happy if it was just outdated and something we could leave in the past, but that’s certainly not the case right now.”
Mike Cooley closes the set with “Once They Banned Imagine,” a quiet country song “about things staying the same, and not necessarily in a good way,” he says. That theme runs throughout Drive-By Truckers’ catalog almost by necessity — by virtue of their being a rock band from the South, but also a rock band from America.
American Band is available now:
“Guns Of Umpqua”
“What It Means”
“Once They Banned Imagine”
Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals); Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals); Brad Morgan (drums); Jay Gonzalez (keyboards); Matt Patton (bass).
Producers: Lars Gotrich, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Colin Marshall, Maia Stern; Production Assistant: Anna Marketti; Photo: NPR.
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