Drive-By Truckers – Pizza Deliverance

Pizza Deliverance (1999)

A- 

1. Bulldozers And Dirt 2. Nine Bullets 3. Uncle Frank 4. Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus) 5. Box Of Spiders 6. One Of These Days 7. Margo And Harold 8. The Company I Keep 9. The President’s Penis Is Missing 10. Tales Facing Up 11. Love Like This 12. Mrs. Dubose 13. Zoloft 14. The Night G.G. Allin Came To Town

 

I saw the new Coen Brothers’ flick Inside Llewyn Davis over Christmas and it was pretty boring. The three people I saw it with (parents and girlfriend) all hated the shit out of it, and I at least found some merit in it – most of it contained in that hilarious “Please Mr. Kennedy” song (it’s my favorite song Justin Timberlake has done since *Nsync broke up!), but a little in its general premise as well, despite how poorly it may or may not have been executed. Namely, that sometimes talented people get a shit hand and never get heard or seen. In the movie, Llewyn’s songs are pretty, if kinda dull, but who knows… given some time to develop, he could’ve turned out to be as big as Dylan instead of face down in an alley with nothing to his name.

Makes you wonder. Makes you wonder how many of your potential favorite bands just never got it going. Or got it going for awhile, and then just petered out and never made the record that would’ve put them over the top. DBT are living proof that, given enough time, even the most dire-seeming of rock ‘n roll caterpillars can eventually turn into a beautiful butterfly. It took Hood and Cooley fifteen freaking years to finally make that transformation, but that doesn’t mean what they did before they broke through to a new plane with Southern Rock Opera was worthless.

Like Pizza Deliverence, a classic album that, had the Truckers called it quits upon its release (which one couldn’t have blamed them for doing, seeing as they had very few non-local fans and probably even less dollars in their bank accounts), you would have never heard, I would have never heard, and the last remaining 12 copies on Earth would today be buried in some godforsaken Georgia basement. Who knows how many thousands of records like that are out there? I sure don’t, but I do know that even if no one was listening to it at the time, Pizza Deliverance is a crucial piece of DBT’s catalog. It’s not that big of stylistic leap from Gangstabilly, truth be told (although the loud electric geetar interjections are becoming more and more frequent), but it does find the band much more sure of themselves and in control of their songwriting powers.

The album ostensibly starts out on pretty much the same foot as the last one: back porch mandolin/banjo arrangement, hicky backwoods three-part harmonies, and lyrics about underage fuckin’ behind a trailer. But where “Wife Beater” just felt like rote exercise, “Bulldozers And Dirt” is a work of bizarrely real emotional depth. It’s perfect; it sounds like it wafted down of its own accord into the studio on a honey sweet breeze from the most musically rich lost corners of Appalachia, while still possessing the irreverent edge it needs to pull off lines like “I got a pickup that’s up on blocks/And I’m up to my ass in debt and hock.” Same goes for Cooley’s “Love Like This,” which by my estimation is one of the damn finest country songs ever crooned. It’s got it all… booze, borderline domestic abuse (lest you cry sexism, she knocks him out) and “cussin’ God and America.” If that ain’t true love, then I don’t know what is. Cooley’s other two contributions presage Southern Rock Opera with both their crunchy classic rock-style guitar configurations and socio-political-personal lyrics that only DBT does so well… “Uncle Frank” is definitely the biggest-sounding thing they’d done to this point with its twin harmonizing lead guitars, and the Southern history lesson scaled down to the single character level opens the door to things like “The Three Great Alabama Icons” and “TVA” that would come later on. But I prefer “One Of These Days.” Punctuated by incessant squealing wah-wah guitar licks, it tackles falling into the same traps you parents did, even the ones you swore you never would in more idealistic days (“I remember him saying that Chicago was a hell right here on earth/25 years later I was saying the same thing about Memphis”). Yeah, it’s also about how the transition from the rural South to city life isn’t an easy one, but like the best DBT songs, the regionalism adds color and personality without getting in the way of something that folks from every corner of America can relate to (and maybe the non-French-speaking parts of Canada, too. I dunno).

But for all the relative maturity displayed here, this is still an album made by drunken Southern jokesters in some guy’s living room (Patterson’s, to be exact). This manifests itself most unfortunately in the idiotic, instantly dated “The President’s Penis Is Missing,” which is such an obvious piss-take that it’s best to realize that it takes less energy to just chuckle and “OLE!” along with it than it does to work up indignity at the band’s gall at actually including the thing on the album. Personally it doesn’t offend me quite so much as new bassist Rob Malone’s whiteboy swamp blues attempt “Mrs. Dubose,” mainly because Rob sings like David Lee Roth with a brain hemorrhage.

They hit the sweet spot, conversely, when they mix cheek and poignancy to some extent… “Nine Bullets” and the instant showstopper “The Company I Keep” might be comedy, but they’re black comedy, and more importantly, they’re catchy, rocking, shit-kickin’ comedy. “Roommate’s gun got nine bullets in it… One left over, I’ll save it for my roommate/After all it’s my roommate’s gun.” Hell, that’s just good manners if you ask me! And “Company” is just an absolute loser’s anthem. “SOMETIMES I FEEEEEEEEEL LIIIIKE SHIIIIT.” GODDAMN RIGHT. And even if you’re not like the guy in the song who’s “dumber than dogshit” and “get[s] by on liquor, and luck,” sometimes we all feel like we’re right there with him. The acoustic “Tales Facing Up” leans more toward the rueful end of spectrum as far as songs about wasting your life go, but still urges grins with lines like “We opened up the sunroof and smoked a big ole joint/And drank a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon listening to the crickets and the trains/Every so often she’d lapse into narcotic ramblings.”

While DBT would unquestionably go on to do better albums, you know I like about Pizza Deliverance? There’s a real sense of intimacy to it that the band never quite captured again. Maybe it’s just all the acoustic instruments and the lo-fi quality – after all, it’s hard to maintain the same kinda vibe when you’re expected to deliver these big rock anthems and have, you know, an actual recording budget. But still… as I listen to the record, I can’t help but picture the band huddled around Patterson’s living room as they recorded it. Couldn’t be happier they don’t have to do that anymore, and I’m sure they are too. But, warts and all, they documented that moment in time perfectly here.



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