Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

ATO Records

ATO Records
Cover art by Wes Freed

Everything you need is right here.

The Drive-By Truckers’ new English Oceans album makes its entrance with the chainsaw Sex Pistols-style guitar roar that ushers in “Shit Shots Count”. An hour later it bids farewell in a state of total marrow-deep zen (drummer Brad Morgan’s subconscious humming during the miles-deep drums that take “Grand Canyon” home – half Tibetan monk and half Thelonious Monk). In-between those two tracks you’ll find everything you already know and love about the Truckers: grit, smarts, storytelling, big pictures … and the kind of tug-on-the-sleeve-of-your-soul reflection and insight that would be perfectly at home behind the wheel of a ’72 Nova, twin Cherry Bombs a’burbling and a cold one between the knees.

And if you don’t already know and love all that stuff about the Truckers, then trust me: one pass through English Oceans and you will.

What the Truckers have managed to do with this album is continue to evolve as a band while keeping that very same list mentioned above handy, necessity being the mother of invention with some key line-up shifts since their last studio album (2011’s Go-Go Boots).

Since joining the Truckers as their fulltime bassist in early 2012, Matt Patton has proven himself to be as flexible as he is powerful. If you’re familiar with Patton’s work with the Dexateens, you know all about the powerful stuff; and his session work at Fat Possum Records of late (including contributions to 81-year old Leo “Bud” Welch’s debut album and Jimbo Mathus’ new Dark Night Of The Soul) illustrate Patton’s flexibility – as David Hood was to Muscle Shoals’ legendary in-house Swampers, Matt Patton is to Fat Possum. On English Oceans, Patton proves he can pile drive a rocker with the best of them; lay down a buttery soul pulse; and then get as spacey and out there as the situation calls for. His brother-in-groove for all these scene shifts is longtime Trucker drummer Brad Morgan, who has made a career out of proving “less is more” when it comes to rhythm (make a drinking game out of how many times Morgan uses his floor tom during this album and you’re going to be very, very dry). You could probably pile Morgan and Patton’s gear into the trunk of that aforementioned ’72 Nova, but the foundations and backgrounds they create for the Truckers’ are massive.

PHOTO CREDIT: David McClister L to R: Jay Gonzalez, Patterson Hood, Matt Patton, Mike Cooley, Brad Morgan

PHOTO CREDIT: David McClister
L to R: Jay Gonzalez, Patterson Hood, Matt Patton, Mike Cooley, Brad Morgan

Another facet of the Truckers’ evolution is utility man Jay Gonzalez’ new role of guitarslinger, complementing his already well-established talent at shading, shaping, and surrounding the band’s sound with applications of piano, organ, and accordion. While there are still plenty of Gonzalez’ keys to enjoy on English Oceans (we’ll talk about that in a moment), his six-string work spans the gamut from bolstering the Truckers’ classic triple-geetar assault sound to moments of solo brilliance. Take, for instance, his guitar break on the Cooley-penned “Primer Coat”: in 30 seconds Gonzalez swings from a soaring lead that’s more about mood than melody to a graceful touchdown that quotes the song’s main riff. This is the kind of stuff that deserves to be heard echoing out of practice rooms in guitar stores around the world – sweaty-palmed worshippers trying to figure out those liquidy licks with their teeth clamped firmly on their lower lips.

And then we have band co-founders Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood – the Truckers’ principle voices, guitarists, and songwriters. English Oceans features the strongest ratio of Hood:Cooley tracks to date: out of the album’s thirteen tunes, they wrote six each with the tie-breaker being “Til He’s Dead Or Rises” – a Hood-penned song with Cooley handling lead vocals.

The vibes, moods, and rhythms are varied and captivating. You want rockers? “Shit Shots Count” features guests George Davidson’s sax and Adam Courson’s trumpet conjuring up some serious Bobby Keys/Jim Price Exile-style hoodoo on the outro), while “Hearing Jimmy Loud” nails the glory of every aging garage rocker you’ve ever known who hasn’t yet realized it’ll never go any further than the garage. “When He’s Gone” is classic detuned Gibson growl and dysfunction (“She can’t stand to have him around but she always misses him when he’s gone”).

There’s plenty more where that came from. Click right here to read the conclusion of my Drive-By Truckers review on Jambands.com

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