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Tales From the Dirty South
Posted by: JimmyEightCats from: New Haven,CT on
Southern rock is usually panned for the all the beer-swilling, whiskey-chugging, stars and bars waving stuff that followed in the wake of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. You may as well put down the British Invasion as being all about “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and “I’m Henry the 8th, I Am”. The truth is not only has some of the best, but some of the smartest rock come out of the south, and I’m talking way before R.E.M., Indie boy. Ronnie Van Zant might have sang songs about fishing and juking but he also composed “Mr. Saturday Night Special”, the best song ever written about gun control. And unlike almost every other song about that topic, it’s not didactic and rocks as hard as any “protest” song ever written. Why so much about Skynyrd? Because the Drive-By Truckers got their first national notice with “Southern Rock Opera”, a song cycle (that’s right a song cycle) based on that much misunderstood band. Led by Patterson Hood, son of famed Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood, “The Dirty South” tells tales of stock car racers, moon shiners and tornadoes (not to mention Sun Records) with a journalist’s eye for detail and a literate, even poetic narrative. From the opener “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” and it’s unanswered question “Daddy…Tell me why the ones who have so much make the ones who don’t go mad?” to the wrenching closer “G*****n Lonely Love”, the album plays like a series of taut short stories. Their songs reflect compassion while never veering toward the insufferable strained sensitivity that renders so much “alt.country” singer-songwriter drivel with a twang. There’s a sense of immediacy and realism in these tales of shut down factories and desperate lives that Bruce Springsteen’s much vaunted work never comes close to. “The Buford Stick” points out that Buford Pusser wasn’t much a hero since most of what he did was promote himself and arrest poor people trying to eke out a living. “Puttin’ People on the Moon” is sung by a laid off factory employee who’s wife died of cancer because they had no insurance It’s Southerner’s version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on The Moon”. Chuck D once called rap the black person’s CNN. The Drive-By Truckers do a much better job of chronicling life below the Mason-Dixon Line than TNN ever will.
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