Classic Americana Albums: Drive-By Truckers “The Dirty South”

New West Records 2004

DBT's "The Dirty South"

From 2001 up until 2005 the Drive-By Truckers were a huge, powerful and overwhelming force. A juggernaut. They aggressively, yet eloquently gave a voice to the blue collar South. People at the whim of capitalist forces and living with the inevitability of being born poor in America. On the song ‘Southern Thing’ Patterson Hood laments: “To the fucking rich man all poor people look the same.”

The Dirty South’ released in 2004 was their fifth album. It was the second album recorded during Jason Isbell’s tenure. It was the Truckers second concept album and like its predecessor, ‘Southern Rock Opera’ it was full to bursting with their trademark word-dense songs revisiting a mythological South. Patterson Hood’s album notes read: “The South is a geographically beautiful region. At least it was that way before they strip-mined and strip-malled us into bland suburbia and conformist complacency. Many of the hard times being sung about in these songs have been replaced by even harder times.” 

Thirteen years later David Joy, author of The Weight of the World, had a chapter closing with the album’s final song, ‘Goddamn Lonely Love’ playing in the background. His anti-hero’s favourite song. Beautifully written by Jason Isbell and hard to follow.

It could be argued that the album is too long. The Buford trilogy of songs too much of a ‘Southern thing’? Looking back, maybe other songs from that time might have enhanced ‘The Dirty South‘ further. ‘The Great Car Dealer War’ and ‘Goode’s Field Road’ or the band’s cover of Warren Zevon’s, ‘Play it all Night Long’, deliciously detuned. But it is textbook Drive-By Truckers, with Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell sharing the storytelling. It is probably their most cohesive album. A classic album or a classic period for the Drive-By Truckers? Artist Wes Freed also created some of the band’s finest album covers and tour posters during these years.

Isbell’s tenure definitely enhanced the Drive-By Truckers. Three perceptive songwriters, all of them also rowdy guitar players, along with the reliable Brad Morgan on drums and Shonna Tucker on bass, made one glorious noise. It was to last a bit longer. Before the relentless alcohol-fuelled touring took its toll, before the marriage of Shonna Tucker and Jason Isbell fell apart.

Sometimes subtlety is not what’s required. Nor self-pity. If it feels like hard times are being replaced by even harder times… find an hour when the neighbours are out and follow Patterson Hood’s advice.

“Turn it up to 10 and rip off the knob.”

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Andy Riggs

Great album but then again DBTs have yet to make a dud.

Nigel Minchin

Agree 2001-2005 was their classic period. I prefer Southern Rock Opera, but both albums are compelling. If Lookout Mountain doesn’t get the adrenaline moving nothing will. Raw truth in every word. DBTs are one of americas great band that is yet to get the recognition it deserves. And still a great live act, they epitomise giving it every time they walk onstage. Long may that continue!

Keith Mackenzie

Agree, the run of Hood/Cooley/Is bell albums are great – although I’ve lived all the, DBTs albums since then too. Probably prefer A Blessing and a Curse – maybe being shorter is better? The Live at Shoals Theatre album is fantastic too.