Album Review

Drive-By Truckers – The Complete Dirty South

Those who missed this classic in its initial configuration now have an opportunity to make up for lost time. And fans of the original will be delighted with this expansive, beautifully bundled update of one of the Truckers’ finest, most potent and career-defining sets.

Holler Country Music
June 12, 2023 1:54 pm GMT

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Drive-By Truckers - The Complete Dirty South

Label: New West

Release Date: June 16, 2023

Producers: David Barbe

Tracklisting

1. Where The Devil Don’t Stay

2. Tornadoes

3. The Day John Henry Died

4. Puttin’ People on the Moon (remixed & featuring new vocals)

5. Goode’s Field Road (remixed)

6. Carl Perkins’ Cadillac

7. TVA

8. The Sands of Iwo Jima (remixed & featuring new vocals)

9. Danko/Manuel

10. The Boys from Alabama

11. The Buford Stick

12. Never Gonna Change

13. Cottonseed

14. The Great Car Dealer War (remixed)

15. Daddy’s Cup

16. Lookout Mountain

17. Goddamn Lonely Love

When most bands revisit older albums to reissue them, you can expect some extra tracks, maybe a clutch of raggedy demos, various live tracks and other ephemera tacked on to justify getting fans to part with their cash again.

But Drive-By Truckers are not like most bands.

The quintet’s The Dirty South, originally released in 2004 after 2002’s Southern Rock Opera and its 2003 follow-up, Decoration Day, had established the Patterson Hood/Mike Cooley/Jason Isbell led five-piece as a serious force in contemporary, swampy, red clay rocking. Originally intended to be another double disc like Southern Rock Opera, it was edited down to a single due to record company jitters about the extended length. Now, on the eve of its 20th anniversary, Drive-By Truckers revisits the collection.

They have added three excised tunes, rejigged the sequence, remastered it all, remixed some songs, fixed a few vocal inconsistences and reissued the package with a sumptuous 46 page book in this deluxe, lengthened form. It’s likely the final word on a title that was already a highlight of the group’s catalog in its earlier version. Even Hood, never known to be overly full of braggadocio, says this “director’s cut” was the way it was intended to be heard and just might be the DBT’s masterpiece.

It lives up to that assertion.

Now boasting 17 songs running nearly 90 minutes, the Dirty South summarizes the Truckers’ conceptual attitude. They continue to struggle with “the duality of the Southern thing,” shorthand for respecting where they were born and raised while confronting the area’s more conservative views.

Opening with the hard thump of Cooley’s ‘Where the Devil Don’t Stay’ - a gripping tale told by a son about his alcoholic poker playing father in the ‘30’s which touches on the rift between black and white people - the playlist unspools into other often dark areas.Topics include troubling tales like ‘Carl Perkins’ Cadillac’, The Band’s fallen members in Isbell’s riveting ‘Danko/Manuel’, and Hood’s grinding ‘The Buford Stick’ about Sheriff Buford Pusser, memorialized in the movie ‘Walking Tall,’ a beloved flick by Southerners that influenced the young Patterson.

The closing ‘Goddamn Lonely Love’ with its lyrics of a broken man grasping on to his sanity, has become the disc’s most streamed track, likely because it was penned by Isbell who left the Truckers a few years later for widespread fame as a solo act. Hood, in his detailed song comments, considers it “one of my favorite Isbell songs ever”.

The newly added tracks are nearly as powerful. ‘Goode’s Field Road’ sounds like a quality Tom Petty outtake, ‘The Great Car Dealer War’ tells of the fiery, destructive confrontation between dealerships over a steaming, molasses beat and ‘TVA’ (short for Tennessee Valley Authority, a power company that provided jobs for Southerners) is another previously lost Isbell gem; an acoustic ballad describing his formative years in the shadow of a dam built by the titular agency.

There’s plenty more too, reflecting the pros, cons, unsettling and sometimes conflicting traditions of the American South. The savvy mix of slower, dramatic material with socio-political slants, bolstered by nail-biting taut rockers like Hood’s ‘Puttin’ People on the Moon’ define the Drive-By Truckers, philosophically and musically, then and even now.

Those who missed this classic in its initial configuration now have an opportunity to make up for lost time. And fans of the original will be delighted with this expansive, beautifully bundled update of one of the Truckers’ finest, most potent and career-defining sets.

10/10

Drive-By Truckers' 2023 album, The Complete Dirty South, is out on 16th June on New West

Written by Hal Horowitz
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