From writing this review for PopMatters, excerpted below, I learned two important things:
1. My taste in Drive-By Truckers differs from most fans' taste in Drive-By Truckers. Commenter Jamie McAfee kindly summarized it this way: "This was somewhat enlightening in its alternative appreciation. Clearly you know the records, but your appreciation doesn't really line up with the average DBT fan. Zip City and The Living Bubba are pretty central DBT songs, for example, and Ouftit was the big DBT anthem till Isbell left." The trouble is, those songs are pretty boring, and the Truckerz are capable of louder things and cooler guitar tones.
2. You should NEVER EVER state in a review that you don't know what a song is about, because there is undoubtedly some fan out there who has parsed the lyrics more closely than you have and will eagerly set you straight. (ahem... "Carl Perkins' Cadillac"...) You should just always follow Rob Sheffield's tactic of blithely stating your interpretation of the song, no matter how out there. If nothing else, this tactic makes for an extra joke, and jokes are useful and hard to come by.
Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicians
Here, let’s have some fun. Put on Southern Rock Opera, the Drive-By Truckers’ breakthrough 2001 double album, and play the first few seconds of each song, like you’re sampling it on the digital listening stations of some defunct retailer. (RIP Borders.) With a couple exceptions—the drums and bass that open “Wallace”, Mike Cooley hollering “I think I’m gonna call the PO-lice!”—every song starts with guitars: noodly guitars, foreboding guitars, guitars that have trouble getting started, guitars that have a loose relationship with soul or boogie or punk riffs. DBT can do different things, but their classic sound is meditative electric guitar worship that somehow congeals into song. To paraphrase minimalist composer Morton Feldman, those six strings are their Walden...
[then I talk about some of the boring songs]
Thankfully, as the Truckers’ extensive gay listenership might say, it gets better. Half of these 16 songs are mighty fine, and that number includes character studies like the evil “Sink Hole” and music history lessons like “Ronnie and Neil” and “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”. I’m still not entirely sure what “Cadillac” is about, but its melody rips off “Mr. Bojangles” with such sweet yearning I can’t help but love it. “Lookout Mountain” is massive; “Marry Me” sounds like a lost Stones classic. 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark album is absurdly overrated, but this compilation has the courtesy to cherrypick two of its four rockers. “The Righteous Path” is Hood’s meditation on singing one note over and over again, a righteous path of anti-melody. And “3 Dimes Down”! “3 Dimes Down” is a CRAZY song—the guitar tone from the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, a story about a laudromat threesome, and two verses (no chorus) of perfect rock ‘n’ roll lines. “Three dimes down and 25 cents shy of a slice of the Doublemint Twins”, indeed. Throw in “Let There Be Rock” and that makes five Hoods, three Cooleys, and no Isbells, which seems about right, though I wouldn’t skip Isbell’s “Outfit” and “Never Gonna Change” if they came on.
(Way better than the Eli Young Band's Life At Best.)