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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Drive-By Truckers
Brighter Than Creation's Dark
New West

Rating: 9.5/10 ?

January 22, 2008
Some may feel that recent changes in the Drive-By Truckers' lineup and the band's journeys through adversity and blah blah blah bear noting in any review of Brighter Than Creation's Dark, but upon delivery the Truckers' latest product so far exceeds any of their previous work that such water under the bridge seems exactly that. Breaking it down in the simplest terms, Creation's Dark signals the rebirth of a band already long considered one of the most authentic and respected acts in the storied Americana genre. Losing a primary songwriter is a hurdle for any group to overcome, and in Drive-By Truckers' case guitarist Jason Isbell not only left the band, but also divorced Truckers' bassist Shonna Tucker. Upon its release last summer, Isbell's solo album, Sirens of the Ditch, demonstrated that he could create a solid record on his own. But what about what remains of the Truckers? Though they eschew the use of backyard percussion and gimmicky electronics, the band's Lynyrd Skynyrdian-sounding classic country/rock instrumental palette is not without its own style of intricacy, and by the time it wraps up Creation's Dark resoundingly declares that the Truckers don't really need Isbell, either.

Having escaped to the other side of potential break-up unscathed, Drive-By Truckers find a sturdy hero in old friend John Neff, the Athens, Georgia-based player and former member of the Japancakes. Having made numerous guest appearances on other DBT albums, Neff's additions of gorgeous pedal steel lines rest easily in the band's more dirt-rock and country-influenced tunes. While the Truckers have always known how to rock (and they still do), their quieter numbers have never had such an intimate sound.

Of the cuts on Creation's Dark, the Mike Cooley-penned "Bob" immediately stands out with its poetic images and strong narrative. With his southern drawl, Cooley muses about the eponymous character, who has "still got an antenna on a pole/ Two channels come in two more come and go/ He used to watch the news but he don't anymore/ Ain't none of it new it's the same as before/ He figures all any of it's any good for/ Is keeping everybody bored 'til there ain't anybody like Bob anymore." Cooley's casual singing proudly bears his straight-talking Alabama accent, which fits the poetic lyrics nicely. In "Lisa's Birthday," which features even more of Neff's weepy steel lines, Cooley delivers another gem, one that could almost nestle unnoticed into one of Willie Nelson's classic albums.

When couples inhabit a band, members often risk complete destruction for the emotionally charged product (see Fleetwood Mac). At the same time, the tension that accompanies the end of a marriage has been known to fuel the development of wonderfully heart-wrenching material (see Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks). In the case of Drive-By Truckers, Tucker's increased role in the band takes up the slack from her ex-husband's departure almost effortlessly, and one can't help but wonder why band leader Patterson Hood had been hiding her voice for so long. Tucker's vocals, strong and cutting like Neko Case, take the lead on three songs (where she gets the writing credit as well) and have a distinctly Case-like country noir feel to them. Both "Purgatory Line" and "I'm Sorry Houston" have a gut-wrenching and whiskey-soaked texture, and their unequivocal success will hopefully afford her more opportunities up front during the band's next trip to the studio.

While the focus may be on the more subtle tracks, the harder rocking tunes certainly hold their own on Creation's Dark, with Cooley taking the reins on "Self-Destructive Zones," "3 Dimes Down," and "A Ghost to Most," all of which feature Neff's steel work amidst layers of guitars. This time around Hood's tunes generally take a back seat to Cooley's, but Neff's bits, along with Tucker's harmonies and a few other flourishes (the subtle harmonica on "The Home Front" adds a new layer to the band's usual guitar onslaught), provide an ideal complement for filling in the blanks.

For a music critic, it is refreshing to simply sit down and listen to an album the first time straight through without picking up on handfuls of annoyances, and even more of a rarity to put it on repeat with the same outcome. And when that album spans 19 tracks and 75 minutes, you've got something special. After the leaner, more Stonesy, more confusing (and often weaker) A Blessing and a Curse, not to mention the ensuing band instability, Drive-By Truckers needed to put together a masterpiece of carefully crafted compositions just to stay relevant. Almost devoid of throwaway tracks (with Hood's "You And Your Crystal Meth" as a possible exception), Creation's Dark does just that, demonstrating a startling consistency and delivering perhaps the strongest batch of alt-country/Southern rock/Americana/whatever-you-want-to-call-it songs in the last five years. There's nothing more pathetic than reading an unwarranted gushing review from some critic's new favorite band, and conversely nothing quite as rewarding as hearing a troupe of veterans dusting themselves off after a nasty spill and getting back on their collective horse. Brighter Than Creation's Dark is a tour de force that easily earns its praise and rings out as classically as any classic rock album.

Reviewed by Jeff McMahon
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jeff McMahon



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