The Drive-By Truckers have had an interesting career. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have been the two-headed monster leading this band the whole time for what it just under two decades now. Behind Hood and Cooley players have come and gone but none more noteworthy than Jason Isbell who’s Truckers career spans a balmy 10 songs in total but had a huge impact still. Three pre-Isbell albums, four Isbell album and 4 post Isbell albums make up this groups expansive 11 album catalog. Here is my opinion on what of those are the best:
Here are the nominees:
- Gangstabilly (1998)
- Pizza Deliverance (1999)
- Southern Rock Opera (2001)
- Decoration Day (2003)
- The Dirty South (2004)
- A Blessing and a Curse (2006)
- Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)
- The Fine Print (2009)
- The Big To-Do (2010)
- Go-Go Boots (2011)
- English Oceans (2014)
#1 Album: The Dirty South
Stand-out tracks: “Lookout Mountain” “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” “Goddamn Lonely Love” “Never Gonna Change”
This is where Hood, Cooley and Isbell were operating in perfect sync with one another. With Hood having 6 songs written by him and 4 by Isbell and Cooley each, it is the most evenly distributed album in their catalog. Hood has “Lookout Mountain” and “Tornadoes,” Cooley has “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” and “Cottonseed” and Isbell has “Never Gonna Change” and the brilliant slow burning songs “Danko/Manuel” and “Goddamn Lonely Love.” All three songwriters were on fire and as a whole the album gelled perfectly. Rocking, emotional, slow, fast… this album has it all and always will be DBT’s masterpiece.
#2 Album: Decoration Day
Stand-out tracks: “Decoration Day” “Outfit” “Marry Me” “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy”
Jason Isbell’s first album with the band took them to a new level. He contributed 2 of the 15 tracks on the record and one could argue they are the best 2 DBT songs ever. “Decoration Day” is one of the best story songs you will ever hear with the Hatfield/McCoy parrellell and “Outfit” hands down life lessons like a songwriter that is 60 instead of in his early 20s. Hood nails some raw anger on “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” and “Sink Hole” as well as having a great perspective on “Heathens.” Cooley’s “Marry Me” is filled with endlessly classic one liners like “Rock and Roll means well but can’t help tell young boys lies.” I think The Dirty South is a better record but I’ll never argue with this one being in the top spot either.
#3 Album: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Stand-out tracks: “3 Dimes Down” “A Ghost To Most” “Self Destructive Zones”
The first album after Isbell’s departure from the band was actually pretty damn good. It could have been a disaster after the high expectations left by Decoration Day and The Dirty South but Hood let Cooley write half the songs here and it was a brilliant move. “3 Dimes Down” “A Ghost To Most” “Bob” and “Self Destructive Zones” are all brilliant Cooley contributions. Hood also throws some solid songs in like “The Righteous Path” and “The Man I Shot.” Cooley steals the show here though and saved DBT from being “Isbell’s former band.”
#4 Album: Southern Rock Opera
Stand-out tracks: “Zip City” “Women Without Whiskey” “Let There Be Rock”
This album broke the band on the strength of a brilliantly constructed concept. Their stories of the south were instantly endearing. From the feuding of “Ronnie and Neil” to the name dropping “Let There Be Rock” this album was instantly likable. “Zip City” may be Cooley’s best song and it fits perfect here, “Women Without Whiskey” is yet another brilliant Cooley song that will always identify the band. There are a few holes on this album making is sprawl a little long but when songs are good they are very good, an easy step up from the band’s first two records.
#5 Album: The Fine Print
Stand-out tracks: “TVA” “Rebels” “Little Pony and the Great Big Horse”
Here is my dark horse pick for the top 5. With no clear album that rounds out the top 5 for me I looked at DBT’s b-side collection and decided the songs here warrant some major respect. The cover of Tom Petty’s “Rebels” is great (much better than the Dylan “Like A Rolling Stone” cover) and a version of Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” sounds like the band could have written it. Cooley’s “Little Pony and the Great Big Horse” is a great little story song written like a children’s lullaby and the Hood’s “The Great Car Dealer War” is fun to follow. Jason Isbell’s “TVA” is brilliant and belongs among Isbell’s best songs he’s ever written. Sure this record is up and down but there are some damn good songs here.
A special thanks to RiffRaf.net for the idea to do this.