Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots [Album Review]

by oz on January 24, 2011

The Drive-By Truckers have a knack for capturing the gritty essence of small town blue collar, often poverty-stricken, life in the South. Their songs depict tales of down on their luck characters and the band is unapologetic in casting strippers, murderers, and marauders as protagonists. As a listener, it’s easy to feel a bit guilty empathizing with prostitutes in songs like “Birthday Boy” off of their previous album, The Big To Do.

Go-Go Boots was mostly recorded during The Big To Do sessions and they clearly split their creativity into two distinct bodies of work. While last year’s release was an edge of your seat Southern Rock album, Go-Go Boots is its easy chair companion with an ottoman. It’s a refreshing Country/Soul album – the 11th in the Drive-By Truckers’ discography.

Since Jason Isbell’s departure from the band, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have equally shouldered songwriting and vocal duties with Shonna Tucker filling in on limited ballads. On Go-Go Boots, however, this balance is disrupted. Pattersoon Hood stands in the forefront and carries the album. Cooley has his moments. He and band shine on “Cartoon Gold” with pedal steel, banjo, acoustic and keys providing a backdrop for his oddly poetic lyrics:

Getting all excited finding nothing that was never there before
Is like bringing flowers to your Mama and tracking dog shit all over the floor

Cooley’s “Pulaski” is another highlight that tells the tale of a girl turning her back on her hometown in TN, her southern accent, and her religion for the bright lights of California.  It’s a grass is greener story that doesn’t quite turn into the dream she’d hoped. Shonna Tucker also takes on more vocal duties on this album with “Dancin’ Ricky” and the Eddie Hinton cover, “Where’s Eddie.” I’d never been much of a fan of her songs, but mostly because her ballads created such a dramatic change of pace from the big rock songs before and after them. On Go-Go Boots, the change of pace is more subtle and the songs serve as welcomed reprieves.

But again, and this is coming from someone with a stronger affinity for Cooley, Go-Go Boots is carried by Patterson Hood. The title track is some of the best storytelling you’ll find in song as it slowly unfolds like a movie. He tells the story of a philandering preacher whose wife mysteriously dies and whose son suspects foul play and then contemplates murdering the old man.  The song climaxes with lines:

Stained glass windows, Jesus looking down
Organs playing music to the middle aged crowd
His wife’s in the ground the devil’s in his head
Them go-go boots are underneath the bed
But its a small town and word gets around

Several songs later, “The Fireplace Poker” seems to bring the story to resolution, but I’m not sure that this connection was intended or if these are separate story lines. Hood tells the story of a troubled man in “Used To Be A Cop” that seems to foretell more tragedy, but he leaves us hanging in the end. But I always knew Hood could spin a yarn. This album’s biggest surprise lies in Hood’s vocal performance on the Eddie Hinton cover of “Everybody Needs Love.” It’s  a song I would have thought him incapable of pulling off, but he nails every note. I can’t wait to hear the crowd singing along to this one at their shows.

Some DBT fans may be thrown off by the more acoustic, less rocking direction, but don’t give up easily. Spend some time with Go-Go Boots, dive into its lyrics, and then allow its story to reveal itself.  You can see several live recordings in their self-produced Go-Go Boots episodes. Go-Go Boots will be released on February 15th via ATO Records.

Drive-By Truckers – Used To Be A Cop

Drive-By Truckers – Go Go Boots

Drive-By Truckers – Cartoon Gold

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

TBone January 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Holy crap, Cooley has an amazing guitar

oz January 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm

He sure does. I considered getting that same design as a tattoo on my pectorals.

arthur2sheds January 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm

I love the Truckers, but I’m disappointed that Cooley seems to be taking a less prominent role on recent albums (was it two songs on The Big To Do? Three?). His songs are typically the ones I like the most. And what happened to his rumoured solo album?

Woody February 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm

This is a great review of a great band. Go-Go Boots strikes me as very soulful album and I am loving it.

tincanman2010 February 12, 2011 at 3:54 am

This would make a good 6-song Patterson Hood EP

Bill March 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Agree with arthur. Cooley is the reason I listen to DBT.

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