Wednesday, March 10, 2010

CD Reviews: The Drive By Truckers & the Ten Foot Polecats

The Drive By Truckers
I first heard the The Drive By Truckers at the 2003 Austin City Limits Music Festival and I was instantly hooked - this was a rock n' roll band that I've been waiting years for. Three guitars blasting away and lyrics based on a similar teen experience. Seems like boys growing up in Alabama did much the same as boys in Maryland. That year also marked the release of Decoration Day - which even today is one of my favorite CDs. The following year they released The Dirty South, another fine effort. But to appreciate the band, you have to witness a live performance. Three and a half hours of pure entertainment. Within a two year period, I was able to see them multiple times live. Fast forward to March 2010. In the intervening years, Jason Isbell left to start his own band, his ex-wife Shonna Tucker joined as a bassist, Cooley and Hood started families, and the band released a couple average CDs - as compared to Decoration Day & The Dirty South. The band is still spending a majority of their life on the road and recreating the four guitar sound with John Neff; but are they becoming stale? No, not at all. Particularly with the soon to be released Big To-Do, their best CD in five plus years ....

This CD includes standard DBT characteristics that made their earliest efforts a success; Patterson Hood's ability to craft an engaging story. In the past he has informed listeners of Alabama or south Tennessee history, in particular the music recording in Muscle Shoals with The Swampers - in which his Father was a member. With the Big To-Do, he continues to take contemporary stories and make them into old-time songs. Some are historical; some are political. That old time feel is created not only from the lyrics, but also Hood's raw vocals and southern twang. Add in guitar solos or interplay and you get the standard DBT sound. Love it. Daddy Learned To Fly, The Fourth Night of My Drinking, Drag the Lake Charlie, The Wig He Made Her Wear, or After the Scene Dies - all done in this style. In contrast, The Flying Wallendas is arranged like a waltz and contains a softer, sadder sound with Neff's pedal steel. And then there's his Sante Fe, another typical DBT track; good harmonies and includes a little Cooley rhythm.

In fact, Cooley's songs are usually my favorites - something about his rhythmic delivery and I liked all three. I was expecting more songs concerning his fatherhood, and there is one, Eyes Like Glue. This song is similar to Outfit, with a father explaining things to his son: " will have a big ol' brain, you won't need it; but you will try to use it just the same". This song continues a trend were their most powerful songs are the slower ones. I can also relate to Get Downtown in its bluesy take on unemployment blues; it also accurately describes the computer industry: "foreigners working for less". And Birthday Boy is standard Cooley - completely rhythmic and almost hypnotic in its delivery.

The biggest surprise is the contributions from Shonna Tucker. She is no longer merely a bassist and penned two songs. Accolades to Hood for including them. Initially its quite a surprise to hear the female vocals - but its a nice change. The band shows they can slow down to a ballad - and still be powerful. You Got Another is a great song. Possibly my favorite on the CD. (It's Gonna Be) I Told You So is way more upbeat, almost a popish Pat Benatar in its delivery. Not your standard DBT tune, but like a muscadine wine, you like, but not sure why.

The Big To-Do is well worth a listen; I believe their best effort in half a decade. I am also looking forward to the DBT tour in support of the CD. Hood will probably include more information on the background of the songs (than what is available in the liner notes) and there will most likely be more guitar action. The band is also touring with Tom Petty during the summer, so see them earlier for a more affordable show.

Ten Foot Polecats
Recently we received the inaugural release from the Ten Foot Polecats, "I Get Blamed For Everything I Do". Now, we've been following this New England based band ever since hearing a few of their songs from myspace. Their sound is raw, hard drivin' blues which they refer to as Punk Blues with "their deep roots drawn from the North Mississippi Hill Country". It's a simple arrangement, Jay Scheffler on vocals and harmonica, Jim Chilson on guitar, and Dave Darling on drums; but their music is powerful - reminds me of early The Nighthawks. The CD starts with this raw power in Chicken Head Man, and then oscillates between this drivin' sound and slower tempos. So Good To Me is an example of this slowdown, and my favorite track is a slower alt-country flavor in Couple More Miles. This song shows that the band has depth. What also makes this a good listen is that at times there's plenty of harp, as in Scratch Ticket, but then plenty of guitar as in Bar Hoppin'. And Big Road has a Crossroads Blues feel.

"I Get Blamed For Everything I Do" was a pleasant surprise - a surprise in that we didn't know what to expect. Its just not hard-drivin' blues where the songs are indistinguishable. There's plenty of diversity between tracks. 2010 is also an important year for the band. Not only are they releasing the CD, but they just signed with Hillgrass Bluebilly Records, an Austin based outfit that is known for finding hidden talent.

Within their first two years, the Ten Foot Polecats have become major players in the New England blues circuit. This spring they have opportunities to expand their audience through the 2010 Muddy Roots Festival and shows scheduled in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. We hope to include several in our travels.

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