Drive-By Truckers are one of America's great rock ‘n' roll bands, blending Lynyrd Skynyrd three-guitar Southern rock, alternative country and smart trashy rock (a la the Replacements) into a literate, rootsy, enduring sound.
They got their start more than 25 years ago when Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the band's primary songwriters and constant members, hooked up in north Alabama. But the Truckers came together under that name in 1996 after Hood had moved to Athens, Ga., and talked Cooley into moving there to give music one last shot.
That shot hit in 2001 with "Southern Rock Opera," a "concept" album that linked the Skynyrd story with tales of growing up in the South and loving and living rock. That disc got the Truckers on the road all over the country. They made their first Nebraska appearance at Duffy's Tavern on the tour supporting the record.
It also started a run of superb albums that expanded the sound without losing its themes, a combination of gothic contemporary Southern tales, songs about rock and a few more confessional numbers.
"Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009" opens with a song that combines those themes, "The Living Bubba," Hood's gritty anthemic tribute to Gregory Dean Smalley, an Atlanta musician who kept playing after he was diagnosed with AIDS. It offers the unforgettable hook line, "I can't die now, 'cause I've got another show to do."
The earliest song on the record, it comes from 1998's "Gangstabilly," and it starts a chronological run that lasts for about half of the CD and includes a trio of songs from "Southern Rock Opera," the breakthrough that got DBT a brief stint on Lost Highway, a major label imprint.
It then moved to New West, the label that's releasing this collection. The Truckers are now on ATO Records, where they have released a couple gems: 2010's "The Big To-Do" and this year's "Go-Go Boots."
The Truckers have seen some members come and go and come back again. Most notably, Jason Isbell, who joined during the "Southern Rock Opera" tour, gave the band an unprecedented three-songwriter assault, contributing songs like the advice-from-dad "Outfit" before leaving the band to start a solo career.
There are two Isbell songs on "Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicians," eight written by Hood and six by Cooley, about the percentage that can be found on the albums. There's not a bad tune on the record -- although I would add some, such as "John Henry."
Among the best of the best: "Ronnie & Neil," the story of the relationship between the Skynyrd singer and the writer of "Southern Man"; the arena rock celebration "Let There Be Rock"; Cooley's catchy "Marry Me" and his Sun Records story "Carl Perkins' Cadillac"; the guy trying to stay on "The Righteous Path"; and the sad tale of illiterate "Uncle Frank."
The collection's title is something of a joke. The Truckers have never had anything resembling a "hit" in commercial terms, but they've made some great music over the past 15 years. This set is a perfect way to get into the Truckers. Grade: A
Rival Sons, "Pressure & Time": This young Los Angeles band is unabashedly retro, a 1970s-style "classic rock" band that channels Led Zeppelin, The Faces, Cream, etc., hitting a blues-boogie sound that is far from new but more than a little appealing.
From the opening riff and roll of "All Over The Road" to the uplifting finish of "Face of Light," "Pressure & Time" clocks in at 31 minutes, which means the 10 songs average 3 minutes each, avoiding the endless guitar solos of much of the genre. It also mercifully doesn't come close to the Black Sabbath sludge that bogs down most of today's classic rock revivalists.
Instead, Rival Sons takes Jay Buchanan's Robert Plant-esque vocals (that's a compliment, by the way) and combines them with some solid guitar work by Scott Holiday and a solid rhythm section that swings a little, making for songs like the title cut and swagger-and-stomp "Burn Down Los Angeles" that can hold their own with anything on classic rock radio.
I was looking forward to catching Rival Sons at Kanrocksas this weekend, but the band canceled its show there. Hopefully, they'll be coming through sometime soon. Until then, if you like classic rock, this is the new band for you. Grade: B