Drive-By Truckers: The Long And Winding Road

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Growling through “the crud” – cold, sniffles, the works – that’s attacking his family in their Athens, Georgia abode, Patterson Hood gets, well, downright cheerful.

“This is some of the very best writing I’ve ever done,” says the 46-year-old when asked about Drive-By Truckers’ new album, Go-Go Boots.

Hood talks excitedly about DBT’s impressive new offering, as well as The Secret To A Happy Ending, Barr Weissman’s fly-on-the-outhouse-wall documentary about the band’s personal tumults and ultimate triumphs.

A “must” for DBT fans, Happy Ending details the band as it existed a half-decade ago, and includes the period when bassist Shonna Tucker was married to Jason Isbell, one of DBT’s fiery trio of guitar-slinging singer-songwriters, as well as their divorce and its impact on the band.

Though not the film’s focus, publicly picking the scab off the dissolution of that marriage illustrates the “band comes first” determination that sparked DBT’s many personal failures and gritty successes. Tucker and Isbell – like the band – have moved past that period. Isbell, who left in 2007, has launched his post-DBT career, and Tucker has assumed a more prominent role in the happily raw-edged DBT. Heck, they even all get along.

“It’s a great movie, I really think it is,” says Tucker. “But it’s hard for me to watch it. It’s like the last two years of a terrible marriage is captured on film.”

Tucker now is renovating a home she and DBT pedal steel honcho John Neff own in Athens. “We have no plans of cutting this (relationship) short,” she says. If anything, with Isbell’s absence, she feels freer to assert her own voice as a songwriter. “There are no limits,” she says. “You say what you want to say, anyway you want to say it … and you get to cuss, too.”

“We’re a democracy,” says Hood. While he and co-founder Mike Cooley – and now Tucker – supply words and melodic ideas, the band crafts arrangements and shares writing credit.

That’s also the ethos of concerts. “We don’t have a set list,” Hood says. Band members simply start the music and the rest join in, making every DBT show unique.

The constant is the backdrop. Whether cussing or prayerful (or both), DBT songs occur in a landscape of sun-bleached doublewides, two-lane blacktops, wrong-side-of-the-tracks morality and an occasional murder, offered up with a side of grits.

On the latest album, two of the songs – R&B-tinged “Go-Go Boots” and “Fireplace Poker” – spring from Hood’s infatuation with the true down-home tale of a philandering preacher who allegedly hired hit men to kill his wife, came home to find the job botched, and finished her off with a fireplace poker.

“I’m just fascinated by that story,” says Hood, laughing.

The band has traveled far since its breakthrough Southern Rock Opera, 2001’s examination of Southern promise perished in the burnt chunks of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fuselage.

“That record had a certain naiveté about it,” says Hood. “It was from the point of view of a much younger man. It is definitely a coming-of-age kind of deal. At the time I wrote that, I hadn’t spent much time out of the South.”

Years of touring the world, doses of life’s failures and the success of his marriage to his wife Rebecca – they’ve been together nine years and have two kids, Ava, 6, and Emmett, 1 – add maturity to this new album.

“The last thing I want to do is spend the rest of my life pretending to be 17 or 27,” says Hood. “Now it’s pretty interesting to me to see what can be said in the point of view of where I am now.

“Kids have given my writing another dimension,” he says. “It’s is easy to be more of a curmudgeon as I get older and older, but the kids temper that…. Having kids is really heavy. That’s been an influence on my writing.”

Something else evident in this collection is its nod to Muscle Shoals, the legendary recording capital from which Cooley, Tucker and Hood sprung.

“We’ve never covered anybody’s songs before on our records,” says Hood. Yet on this album there are two songs by the late Eddie Hinton, a pal of Patterson Hood’s bass-playing pop, David.

Hinton co-wrote “Where’s Eddie” with fellow Shoals visionary Donnie Fritts. “Everybody Needs Love” is a Hinton offering that showcases the town’s color-blind R&B vibe.

Feasting on Muscle Shoals’ musical flavors is “the next step in an artistic process,” says Hood. “On this record, we embraced the aspects of our musical heritage.” And so, the journey continues.

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