Drive-By Truckers “The Complete Dirty South”

New West Records, 2023

artwork for Drive-By Truckers album "The Complete Dirty South"

Twenty-year anniversary album now available as the band original intended with three bonus tracks.

artwork for Drive-By Truckers album "The Complete Dirty South"Back in 2004 Georgia’s finest exports the Drive-By Truckers released their fifth album and the third in a trilogy of albums that saw them cement their position at the forefront of the Americana Indie Rock scene. Following on from ‘Southern Rock Opera’ (2001) and ‘Decoration Day’ (2003), ‘The Dirty South’ continued the theme of exploring the highways and backroads of America’s mythological south, with its diverse landscape of big rivers, tall green grass and shady trees continuously tormented by tornadoes, and populated with a mix of small-time criminals, bootleggers and everyday people just trying to get by. The album has since gone on to be regarded as the high-water mark of the band’s illustrious career and a benchmark for all those following in their wake. It is, in essence the perfect example of twenty-first century ‘Homemade Southern Rock’. The question raised by the release of this twenty-year anniversary album is, can you improve on perfection or do you simply run the risk of diluting the magic?

Well the first thing to address is what’s on offer from this ‘Director’s Cut’ that finally presents the album the way it was intended to be heard by the band, their definitive version. To start with there are three bonus tracks, though not all three songs are new, plus two tracks with updated vocals. There is also a 32-page book that features liner notes written by Patterson Hood, and track by track descriptions from Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell, as well as never-before seen photos and updated artwork from the late Wes Freed.

The opening three tracks are as you were from the original album so it is not until track four that any discernible variation is detected and even then it requires a keen ear. ‘Putting People On The Moon’ was written by Hood who has gone on record stating his regret and frustration with the final vocal take on this number, “attempting some things I hadn’t yet really learned how to do at the time” and relished the opportunity to take “another stab at it”, apparently nailing it first time. Listening to the two tracks back to back there is certainly a sense of an assured confidence garnered over the following years from Hood’s new delivery, whilst the guttural scream towards the end probably achieves the greater primal effect.

The first change in the original running order comes at track five where we find the addition of ‘Goode’s Field Road’. Keen-eyed fans of the band will recognise that this is not a new track, for though it was originally written for the album it was left off in favour of another of Hood’s songs ‘Lookout Mountain’. Instead the track eventually appeared on the band’s 2008 album ‘Brighter Than Creation’s Dark’ and played at a slower tempo than initially recorded with the band just behind the beat. The original version would surface the following year on the compilation album ‘The Fine Print’ and it is that version that appears on this anniversary album.

Track seven sees the first brand new track on the album ‘TVA’, squeezing between ‘Carl Perkin’s Cadillac’ and ‘The Sands Of Iwo Jima’. This song written by Isbell is about the ‘Tennessee Valley Authority’ a federally-owned electric utility corporation that supplies power to a large proportion of the southern states. Isbell’s song tells the story of the building of the damn and the impact it had on the local community, and is a reflective number that somewhat changes the pace of the album, shining the spotlight on a relatively young and precocious Isbell still honing his songwriting craft. The following number ‘The Sands Of Iwo Jima’ is the second number to have the vocals updated by Hood and here there is a more obvious improvement, less strained, more depth in delivery.

The last of the new tracks ‘The Great Car Dealer War’ comes in at track fourteen positioning itself between ‘Cottonseed’ and ‘Daddy’s Cup’ and tells the story of a town where all the car dealerships burn to the ground. This is the DBT’s at their best, sublimely graphic in its narrative tale of society’s soft white underbelly, with its small-time crooks and not-so-innocent bystanders. Such is the strength both lyrically and musically it is a mystery how this track could be left of the original album as it continuously pumps outlines filled with scorched irony and acerbic contempt as the protagonist claims innocence while the blood still drips from their hands, pleading “I am just a soldier in the great car dealer war”. One can’t help but feel that the subject matter here could just as easily be a metaphor for something more inclusive and global.

So, there we have it, fourteen songs are now seventeen songs, ‘The Dirty South’ is now ‘The Complete Dirty South’. Has it improved on the original? to be honest no, how do you improve on perfection. That said the additional tracks, along with the new vocal takes have certainly not diluted the quality of the original album, and that in itself is reassuring. What it has done is simply add a few extra chapters without in anyway changing the story. For those that don’t already have this genre-defining album then possibly this would be the version to buy, especially with the added bonus of the accompanying booklet, for those of us that already own the original, well the three additional tracks don’t disappoint and of course there is the new Wes Freed artwork.

9/10
9/10

About Graeme Tait 125 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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Boneshaker

TVA isn’t a new track. Like Goode’s Field Road it also appears on the Fine Print collection.