Sweet home Alabama.
Anyone who'd do a concept album using Lynyrd Skynyrd as a metaphor for the rise and fall of Southern culture in the '70s has some deep roots. Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood and Shonna Tucker hailed from The Shoals region, as in Muscle Shoals Alabama. Hood, the son of Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood and Cooley, whose grand-dad was legendary Western Swing fiddler, Spade Cooley, certainly have the pedigree.
Drive-By Trucker's three guitar line-up and songs about down-and-outers earned them a following shortly after Cooley and Hood began playing together in '96. Two years later, they issued "Gangstabilly" ('98) followed by "Pizza Deliverance" ('99). A nationwide tour resulted in '00's "Alabama Ass-Whuppin'." The live set was re-release by Terminus Records in '02.
"Southern Rock Opera," using Skynyrd as a touchstone, earned the band good reviews and national press - including Rolling Stone magazine. But it always seems just when things start moving somebody throws sawdust under the sled. Guitarist Rob Malone left, replaced for a good long time (five years), by Jason Isbell.
'03's "Decoration Day" dealt with people who were faced with tough times and hard decisions. Earl Hicks, the band's bassist also made a difficult choice when he too left the group before the end of '03. Studio bassist Shonna Tucker, then Isbell's wife, stepped in.
The next year "The Dirty South" was released. The album referenced a number of uniquely Southern themes, people and places, including Sam Phillips and Sun Records ("Carl Perkins' Cadillac").
Touring took most of the band's time and energies through '05 with their seventh release "A Blessing And A Curse" landing in early '06. The album marked a move from Southern Rock to a more straight-ahead sound. Also, John Neff, who had played off and on with the band since '98 was installed as an "unofficial" sixth member. It proved to be a timely addition. In the spring of '07 Isbell announced he was leaving and the split was termed "amicable." As a result, Neff became a full-time member.
"Brighter Than Creation's Dark" arrived in early '08. The album took its title from a line in Cooley's song "Checkout Time In Vegas."
Drive-By Truckers issued their second live album, "Live From Austin TX" the following year. Then came "The Fine Print: A Collection Of Oddities and Rarities," which was just that and b-sides recorded during the "Decoration Day" and "Dirty South" sessions.
Having cleared the decks, the band went back to recording original material. For people into numbers, the '10 release "The Big To-Do," was the group's tenth album. There were also 10 letters in the title.
During "The Big To-Do" sessions the band also laid down tracks for what eventually became '11's R&B leaning "Go-Go Boots" album.
After an intense creative period, the Drive-By Truckers fell back on their catalog issuing "Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009" later in the year.
In December of '11, Hood announced via Facebook that Tucker had left the group. "We all love and respect her and wish her all of the best in everything she sets out for," read the statement. Longtime Drive-By Truckers' producer David Barbe replaced Tucker until Matt Patton stepped in for a '12 tour. That was followed by Cooley's debut solo album, "The Fool On Every Corner." The acoustic live set, produced by Barbe, was recorded in Atlanta and Athens, GA.
In the interim, Neff departed with no replacement named. Subsequent concerts consisted of Cooley and Hood on guitar with Gonzalez alternating between keyboards and guitar.
That line-up was intact when the group issued "English Oceans" in '14.
"It's Great to Be Alive," a live collection of fan favorites and obscure tracks, arrived in '15. In addition to Hood and Cooley, there was Gonzalez, Patton and Brad Morgan (drums).
Stating it was a "Rock and Roll call to arms as well as a musical reset button," the Drive-By Truckers rolled out their 11th studio effort, "American Band." According to Hood, the album was "set front and center in the current political arena with songs dealing with our racial and cultural divisions."
1998 Gangstabilly (re-released in 2005)
1999 Pizza Deliverance (re-released in 2005)
2001 Southern Rock Opera (re-released in 2002)
2003 Decoration Day
2004 The Dirty South
2006 A Blessing And A Curse
2008 Brighter Than Creation's Dark
2010 The Big To-Do (highest charting album -#22 US)
2011 Go-Go Boots
2014 English Oceans
2016 American Band
Alabama Ass Whuppin' (2000)
Live From Austin, TX (2009)
The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities (2009)
Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009 (2011)
Drive-By Truckers' hard-scrabble Alt. Country is an acquired taste. If spoken-word tales of woe backed by jagged guitars is of interest then check out the early albums.
"The Dirty South" marks both a sonic and stylistic change toward a more mainstream Rock sound.
Rather than reach for a dazzling hook or catchy riff on "The Big To-Do," dark themes are countered by buoyant melodies - it would be too depressing otherwise.
"Go-Go Boots" opens with a Byrds-influenced track, "I Do Believe," that seems to have dropped directly from the era when Go-Go boots were first popular. But Country Rock gives way to the rural route especially on "Cartoon Gold," "The Weakest Man," a Waylon Jennings inspired track, and "Pulaski." The R&B material is usually on a slow simmer.
"English Oceans" also delves into the Drive-By Truckers take on Country-Rock where failed characters named Walter or Jimmy get a moment.