Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

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Article Reviews

Drive-By Truckers (New West, 2008)

As a thoroughly hip Southern rock band in the 21st century, the Drive-By Truckers are either an oxymoron or a paradox.

Start with their new album title. You might think, “A rock band with a poetic streak.” And you’re right. But that lofty phrase occurs as a description of Las Vegas at night. Then there’s the band name, and the wacky cartoon vulture on the cover. So add a Southern-fried tacky-kitsch esthetic to the mix. But the Truckers aren’t ridiculing trailer-park culture either. They sing respectfully of a man “who always had more dogs than he ever had friends.”

Spin the disc and the paradox grows deeper. Gentle acoustic ballads rest alongside grand three-guitar thumpers that sound like a collision between Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, and the New York noise band Sonic Youth. Lyrics about the family man who’s “trying to stay focused on the righteous path” bump against others about a friend lost to crystal meth.

All this has made up the Truckers’ artistic universe for a decade now. It’s a Whitmanesque vision of rock ’n’ roll so large that, on this album, it takes 19 songs to contain it. What’s new here is the fact that some of the young men in the Truckers’ audience have been off to war, and Creation’s Dark includes two songs inspired by backstage conversations with living veterans and the relatives of a dead one.

“That Man I Shot” has a U.S. soldier haunted by the eyes of his Iraqi victim. “He was trying to kill me,” the soldier sings. “I was just doing my job, maybe so was he.” “The Home Front” features a war widow, the mother of a 2-year-old, who feels “abandoned by a world she thought she knew” as she slowly realizes that there was no good reason for the war.

So add another paradox. The Drive-By Truckers are cold-bloodedly compassionate.