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Drive-By Truckers change ways on ‘Blessing’

Alternative country band reins in Southern themes, trims down songs
/ Source: Billboard

After six albums full of Dixie-fried themes and musical mayhem, Alabama's Drive-By Truckers entered the studio for their seventh release with a different agenda.

DBT frontman Patterson Hood calls it the "un-agenda."

"We wanted to make a record that was strictly song-oriented and wasn't attached to a bigger narrative," Hood says. "We almost had more of a list of what we didn't want than what we did want."

"A Blessing and a Curse," produced by David Barbe and primarily recorded at the Fidelitorium in Kernersville, N.C., hits stores April 18 on New West Records.

Known for its triple-guitar/triple-songwriter attack in Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell (bassist Shonna Tucker and drummer Brad Morgan round out the lineup), DBT wanted to be as "current" as possible this time.

As such, the band set aside a "pretty big backlog" of songs and went with all new material. "Most of it was written either while (we) were in the studio or in the weeks leading up to it as opposed to years leading up to it," Hood explains.

For the most part, the songs are more economic than those on previous DBT records, with the majority in the three- to four-minute range. "We're all big Big Star fans and fans of pop and power pop, and we wanted to experiment with those influences a little more than we have in the past," Hood says.

A year spent listening to the Faces boxed set influenced such songs as the fatalistic "Aftermath USA." "I fell madly in love with the Faces boxed set and kept it in heavy, heavy rotation," Hood says.

Recorded in about two weeks, "Blessing" is a tightly crafted, less raw work that mostly abandons the Southern themes that dominated early material.

"I write a lot of songs (about the South) and will continue to, but we wanted to do a record that wasn't so specific in the geography," Hood says. "We're from the South, but that's not all we can do."

What "Blessing" does have in common with previous albums is a running theme of loss and coming to terms with it on songs like the tragic death of a child in "Little Bonnie," a lost mate in the sparse "Space City" or an ex-friend in the bluesy "Goodbye."

"The biggest thing this has in common with almost all of our records is the dualities are still there," Hood says. "We kind of stripped down the other things we were writing about, and that's what was left. A lot of good things have happened to us in the last couple of years both as a band and in our personal lives. But something as wonderful as having children also brings along these new fears and terrors and responsibilities."

Hood calls "Aftermath USA" a "sort of thinly veiled political song about our collective national hangover I think we're all starting to wake up to.

"Some of us didn't buy into all that (stuff) in the first place, but we're all having to experience together the downside of these years and years of neglect from the federal government. I kind of likened that to our crank (crystal meth) problem, and the irony of it being the biggest epidemic in the more Red-State-type places didn't escape me."