Drive-By Truckers captured at its raw and raucous best on Live from Austin TX

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, AUG. 12, 2009

By Steve Newton

Drive-By Truckers fans had cause for concern when long-time guitarist-vocalist Jason Isbell—one of the group’s main songwriters, along with cofounding singer-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley—decided to leave the southern rock–influenced alt-country band in 2007. But the group simply responded by recruiting guitarist and pedal-steel specialist John Neff, mining the then-untested songwriting talents of Isbell’s ex-wife, DBT bassist Shonna Tucker, and recording its sprawling masterwork of 2008, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. The rejuvenated lineup was captured at its raw and raucous best on Live from Austin TX, taped last September for public TV’s Austin City Limits.

The CD/DVD kicks off with “Perfect Timing”, an upbeat janglefest written and sung by Cooley and featuring Neff’s deft lead solos on acoustic guitar. Hood’s “Heathens”, from 2003’s Decoration Day, continues the easygoing country-roots feel, with Neff’s soaring pedal-steel snaking in and out. But it isn’t until Hood invites the crowd to give a warm welcome to “The Stroker Ace, Mike Cooley”, and Cooley bangs out the ringing chords of “A Ghost to Most”, that the Truckers’ true melodic power is revealed.

“Saving everybody takes a man on a mission with a swagger than can set the world at ease,” sings Cooley at his Dubya-bashing best, “some believe it’s God’s own hand on the trigger and the other dumping water in the streets.”

Hood follows Cooley’s take on the perversity of politics with the equally stirring “The Righteous Path”, another standout from Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, which uses a raggedy, Crazy Horse–like vibe to tell of one man’s ongoing struggle to do good. It’s followed by yet another Brighter track, Tucker’s gorgeous, beautifully sung ballad, “I’m Sorry Huston”.

The killer material carries on unabated with the slide guitar–drenched “3 Dimes Down” and the raging, rifftastic “Puttin’ People on the Moon”, in which Hood takes his own crack at “that damned Bush”, drawing keen applause for his efforts. The concert was recorded less than two months before the U.S. presidential election, and even in Texas folks couldn’t wait to be rid of the warmongering bastard.

Hood leaves the politics behind on “Let There Be Rock”, which isn’t an AC/DC cover but an original tune from the DBT’s 2001 double-album, Southern Rock Opera, which was a love-letter to ’70s rock and the mythology of Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose kickass southern spirit embues the work of Hood and his bandmates to this day.

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