When tuning into the evening news, following the presidential race or simply scrolling through social media, it’s obvious that our nation is in a transitional phase. And it’s pretty messy. Politics and entertainment have always courted each other, and one band that’s never shied away from a political statement is the Drive-By Truckers. Though perhaps their perspective isn’t what you’d expect from a southern rock band. Last week, the band released their eleventh and most political album to date, An American Band. The album touches on everything from racial tensions to gun violence and political fear-mongering. More on that a little later, though.
In the meantime, there’s a good chance some people clicked on this article saying “Drive-by who?” You’re likely not going to hear Drive-By Truckers on any mainstream radio station or see them performing on a televised awards show. The Athens, Georgia-born band has been together for two decades, building a devoted following almost entirely through non-stop touring. In the 13 years that I’ve been listening to the band, I can’t recall a year when they weren’t on tour in some capacity.
Whether critically labeled as southern rock, Americana, or alternative country, the band is unrivaled in its detail-laden portrait of the American South. Often opting to skip go-to themes of personal longing or romantic heartbreak, the Truckers have become masters of musical character studies. Embittered ex-cops, struggling farmers, low-level drug dealers, lonely housewives, traumatized war vets, and dozens of other hard-luck characters litter their songs.
So, whether you’re a long-time fan or new to the group, to borrow from Patterson Hood “welcome to the rock show,” now let’s rank some DBT albums.
11 and 10. Gangstabilly (1998) and Pizza Deliverance (1999)
The first song introducing DBT on Gangstabilly is “Wife Beater” and it largely sets the tone for many of the band’s songs. Happy stories are rare. The band’s first two albums originally released on Soul Dump Records went out of print and were mostly unheard until they were re-released by New West several years later. While the albums feel more raw than later efforts, they successfully blend sad acoustic ballads laden with pedal steel guitars and raucous punk rock power chord crunch.
Both albums have the distinction of containing the band’s funniest song titles with gems like “Buttholeville,” “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)” and “Panties in Your Purse,” but that’s largely where the fun ends. Nobody can accuse the first two albums of being overproduced as they were recorded in just a number of days, but the clever songs helped to lay the path of Southern exploration the band would venture down.