Far more than on any of the Drive-By Truckers previous albums, Go-Go Boots rises like smoke from the old Muscle Shoals country-and-soul sound. Having recorded with Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones, and having spent a lifetime listening to classic soul albums by Bobby Womack, Tony Joe White, and especially Eddie Hinton, it was inevitable that the Truckers eventually produce this album.
We knew they were pin-your-ears-back rock and roll. But here in Go-Go Boots, the Truckers are country, and here, too, the Truckers are soul and rhythm and blues. It looks funny, on paperthe words country/soul mashed up like thatbut
maybe in the end it comes down to this one shared ethos: the harder life gets, the more clamantly it calls for art, for music, for beautyfor the slow celebration of loss or pain that is mournfully, beautifully defiant.
It seems a paradox that while the Drive-By Truckers sound is so unique; it is still part of a greater and larger family. Some of the other greatsparticularly in the South were spawned from their culture, while others came from the deeper rootstock of the southern landscape itself. Of course in the long run the landscape has a significant say in what kind of culture develops; its all tangled together, all connected, and everything shares bits and strands of those fragments, again like a pastiche of random and beautiful genomes.
Each of the three vocalistsCooley, Patterson, Shonnais distinct; each aches in its own
way with sometimes gravelly and other-times smooth sweet wistful broken-glass hurt and
yearning and reluctant. Pattersons songs, of course are almost always willing, in the great
Southern tradition, to take on the Manor anyone elseas are Cooleys, when the cause is
big and just.
Their soundso distinctly theirscomes nonetheless from history and the past. Its all a big tangled beautiful mess, and it all comes out of Muscle Shoals, where, as Pattersons father, legendary bassist David Hood, astutely notes, the South once did something right with respect to race relations, once-upon-a-time, and when it most mattered.
In their documentary, The Secret to a Happy Ending, Patterson speaks of the Souths duality thing. Visually, the documentary shows a symbolism of this duality nicely: the fecund green clamor of summer (play it loud), insects shrilling high in the canopy as if giving voice to a fever in the land that may or may not be a madness; and in winter, the bare raw limbs, the signature of a thingthingsgoing away. Similarly, the Truckers, while walking on the dark side of the street in their songs, seem, despite it all, unable to avoid
stumbling into cathedrals and columns of light, as in Mercy Buckets.
A little about Go-Go Boots: it doesnt make a lot of sense for me to wax long about what youre going to hear,. The incantatory, almost child-like refrain of clamant happiness, I do believe/I do believe, with its big-band rock-chord super-anthem kicking in, thena song about family, and the memory of being loveda rock song about ones grandmother!sets the tone for all that is to follow, fireplace poker bludgeoning be damned.
You hear the bona fide country in Cooleys Cartoon Gold, complete with rambling banjo run, and the undefinable ache and wonder at life, in the vocalsand you hear the Ive-been-done-wrong-by-life-bit-am-still-here, still-hurting, hurting-so-good slowing- down soul sound.
So many of the songs on this album will end up being favorites, and anyway, its not fair to say one songs better than any otherbut damn, the first Eddie Hinton song on this albumEverybody Needs Loveis awfully fine. The Truckers hardly ever cover anyone elses songs, but here theyve chosen two by their late friend, Hinton. This is a big deal and when you hear the two songs youll understand what a good idea it is. Youll also see how directly their country-soul sound resonates with his.
What is country-soul? The glib description, You cant pin it down but you know it when you hear it, isnt very satisfying. Its not enough to say its funky, or has that slow steady soul beat, that drive. Its not enough, technically, to say it places John Neffs pedal steel with Jay Gonzalez B-3 and piano, or, on other songs, his Wurlitzerbut thats
true enough, too. Maybe the best way to understand what country-soul is is to listen to
Everybody Needs Love again. Its got a great vocal reacha beautiful, no-holds-barred straining greatnessmixed with the Memphis backside style of drummingcompliments of Brad Morganthat Al Jackson made famous on Wilson Picketts Midnight Hour. Here, its perfectly in sync with the story, and the mood, the message. Its got the great back-up chorus coming in, the piano and Hammond B-3 assuming greater authority, the farther into the song you go. We could be talking about genetic strands being inlaid, so deeply and
intensely does this sound take over a listener. After only a couple of playings, it seems like the song inhabits you, has always been in you. This is what constitutes a classic. The DBTs are getting to that age where, battered and scarred, they have deeper wonder for the fact that theyve survived. Theyre not any wiserthey were born wise, have always been wise, possessing the instincts (a gift of their landscape) that Flannery O Connor (who
almost surely would have been a DBT fan) called wise blood. But with their old wisdom, they have the compassion of the survivors, now.
Sweet, you say? How can a song about a preacher bludgeoning his wife with a fireplace poker be sweet? Well, they are still the DBTs, after all. Maybe that ones not the sweetest of the bunch. But even it has something intangible in the soundsomething less dark, less desperate: something that is somehow fuller.
Theres something else in these songshappiness. Not joy, but the rare, more sustainable and enduring thing, a happiness earned by exploring the darkness, and surviving.
Something undefinable has changed within the Truckers. Theyre still rocking on, but a few more strands of lightness of being, and happiness, have infiltrated their being. Theyre happier. Do not hold this against them, nor worry that it will corrupt their blues and rock, their snarl and anguish. Instead, the happiness will continue to whet these
thingsthe things for which their old fans love them. Theirs is an earned happiness, and therefore does not temper or weaken their sound. Indeed, this new light forges the sound the rock. You can hear it in every chord. Its their finest yet.