Drive-By Truckers are at a crossroads as they get set to release The Big To Do tomorrow. It’s been several years since the band released that trifecta of perfection in Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day and The Dirty South. After Jason Isbell left the band, DBT released two solid, but unspectacular albums in A Blessing And A Curse and Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. There are some choice moments in both, but neither reached the epic heights of the aforementioned three LPs.
Having heard a couple of tunes on the web and live at shows, I had guarded optimism when I saw the tracklist. At best, I thought The Big To Do would be a slightly better, pared-down version of Brighter Then Creation’s Dark. What I got was the best Drive-By Truckers album since The Dirty South. This album lives up to Patterson Hood’s proclamation that The Big To Do is “very much a rock album, more so than anything we’ve done since Disc 2 of Southern Rock Opera.”
“The Fourth Night of My Drinking” follows a protagonist on a crazy binge as he is “headed for a fall” while John Neff plays a magical slide guitar. The song ends with Hood proclaiming “It will be through with me before I’m through with it.” I can already hear the crowds singing along with that line.
That track is immediately followed by vintage Cooley on the astounding track, “Birthday Boy.” From the first line out of Cooley’s mouth, “Which one’s the birthday boy she said ‘I ain’t got all night,’” you know you are in for a treat. Cooley and the band nail this tune as the song’s character visits a whore who pontificates on the realities of life.
The album moves along at a brisk pace with nary a missed effort and then you get “After The Scene Dies” which is an absolute gem in which Hood snarls his way through a true DBT rocker. The album then downshifts into a slow finish concluding with Hood’s “The Flying Wallendas” and Cooley’s acoustic masterpiece, “Eyes Like Glue.” When you see Cooley grab his acoustic on this tour, be prepared to have the venue come to a screeching halt.
The Big To Do lacks that ramshackle feel or SRO or Decoration Day, but its sound reflects the maturity of the musicians. The production is tighter, the bottle of Jack was left a little more full, and when it’s all said and done, it shows that Hood and Cooley can still spin a yarn as good as anybody out there today. This is a tremendous album that will please both the long-time fans of DBT and fans just stumbling across them for the first time.