Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

Go-Go Boots (2011)


1. I Do Believe 2. Go-Go Boots 3. Dancin’ Ricky 4. Cartoon Gold 5. Ray’s Automatic Weapon 6. Everybody Needs Love 7. Assholes 8. The Weakest Man 9. Used To Be A Cop 10. The Fireplace Poker 11. Where’s Eddie 12. The Thanksgiving Filter 13. Pulaski 14. Mercy Buckets


DBT’s Muscle Shoals record. And what took them so dang long to make one, anyway? I’ll tell you what: rebelliousness. Getting into music that freaks out your parents is one of the hallmarks of adolescence, and for some that phase can last for decades, if not a lifetime. There’s no rule that says you have to give up Black Flag for Bach once you turn 40. And when your dad is musical royalty like Patterson Hood’s is, one would imagine that whole phenomenon is magnified. It’s one thing to piss off your aging hippie dad by listening to Skrillex, but just imagine what is was like actually being the kid of a guy who helped make a bunch of classic records that said aging hippie dad has been wearing out since the 70s. Now, David Hood clearly has very eclectic range as a musician, and although he’s best known for his contributions to Muscle Shoals soul, he’s also played with the likes of Cher and Bob Seger. Nonetheless, he was and is above all a studio hand, and thus for him, professionalism, if not perfectionism, is the name of the game, and even the slightest of bum notes are like Satan’s farts – rancid and to be avoided at all costs. The antithesis of that approach? Punk rock – which is exactly what Patterson latched onto as he forged his way through puberty in the late 70s and early 80s. And by all accounts, the elder Hood fucking hated it. Cooley and the rest of the Truckers didn’t grow up in the same sort of households, of course, but they still came of age in the Muscle Shoals area and thus had to contend with the region’s old guard in whatever way they could. As a result, although DBT has never been a punk band, they’ve always maintained a certain DIY aesthetic. If they were a little out of tune and sloppy, it was OK, if not desirable.

That being the case, what strikes me about Go-Go Boots even more than its strong Muscle Shoals-style country-soul flavoring is the unprecedented technical rectitude the band displays. Indeed, this go-around, the DBT’s traditional three-guitar army, on display in full glory as recently as The Big To-Do, is scaled way back in favor of more atmospheric, weaving guitar lines, fastidious arrangements, and subtle keyboard textures. This is all the more remarkable considering the fact that the album was recorded during the same sessions as The Big-To Do.  Yup, faced with their usual surplus of material, DBT decided to eschew the Brighter Than Creation’s Dark model (make a really long, diverse double album) for a new model (make two separate, stylistically distinct but still pretty long single albums). This strategy made sense, since the two records represent pretty much opposite ends of DBT’s range as a band, but on the other hand, Go-Go Boots is only eight minutes shorter than Brighter so the familiar whines of “they need a good editor” might be somewhat justified in this case. And while there are at least one or two tracks I’d probably cut from each (here, I could definitely do without the dirty laundry-airing “Assholes,” which may have been cathartic for Patterson to write following the business acrimony that led DBT to split from New West, their old record company, following Brighter, but I think it wore out its welcome the minute it went beyond the “demo that nobody ever hears” phase), the two records are divergent enough in terms of both songwriting and production style (The Big To-Do=hot and compressed; Go-Go Boots=earthy and pristine) that the existence of both is justified.

Now, if Go-Go Boots didn’t put forth such coherent statement, I might be singing a different tune. But, going back to the whole teenage rebellion thing, this is an album I think DBT have had in them all along – it just took them a while to grow up enough to actually make it. Once they had gotten to the point where they were comfortable with releasing covers of two songs by Eddie Hinton—an unsung songwriting hero of the Muscle Shoals sound whose most lasting contribution is playing uncredited lead guitar on “I’ll Take You There”—why not go for it? And wouldn’t you know it, “Everybody Needs Love” ended up being the closest DBT have ever come to having a radio hit (that is, not very close, but more like “New York is close to Philadelphia” than “Hugh Hefner is close to not having Chlamydia,” if you know what I mean). It would have been a huge hit in the 70s if anyone had actually heard it in the first place, so it was more than ripe for reclamation. The other cover is the sultry “Where’s Eddie,” which Hinton originally wrote for Lulu in the late 60s and here provides Shonna the opportunity to provide her best ever vocal performance by far. It certainly provides quite a contrast with the barely audible, disengaged performances she was giving on stage around the same time. Shame.

So like I said, other than the covers, DBT’s adherence to the Muscle Shoals tradition is most noticeable in their newfound attention to detail, production-wise. This is the first and only DBT album where the nuances of the arrangements and the sheer musicianship is just as captivating as the storytelling. With so many ponderous tempos and songs stretching out over five minutes or more, they needed to put a lot of care into the arrangements to make the tunes work as well as they do. And if that means less loud guitars and fist-pumping choruses, so be it – as I went over in by Big To-Do review, the lineup that made Go-Go Boots was just better suited to this kind of material than they were to making another “Ronnie And Neil” or “Let There Be Rock.”

Thus, the musical stars of this album are, once again, John Neff, who plays either pedal steel or slide on every song, and keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, who began accompanying DBT on tour in 2008 to recreate Spooner Oldham’s parts on Brighter and ended up joining the band full-time. The two of them make for a dynamic duo on a bunch of these songs, such as the title track, where Jay’s Wurlitzer and Neff’s absolutely filthy slide work (really some of the best I’ve ever heard… when I first reviewed Go-Go Boots for Detroit’s Metro Times when it came out, I described it as sounding “like the devil walking,” and I can’t think of a better way to put it) combine to create the deepest, sexiest, and yet most dangerous-sounding groove that DBT have ever laid down. Same deal with “Ray’s Automatic Weapon,” on which Patterson’s lament about a haunted war vet is greatly enhanced by Jay’s heavy left hand and yet more exquisite Neff slide work. On Patterson’s epic of paranoia and dashed expectations, “Used To Be A Cop,” they layer multiple keyboards and what sounds like seven or eight guitar parts to build the atmosphere. Add in a thumpalicious Shonna bassline and a searing Cooley solo at the end, and its one of DBT’s greatest ever ensemble performances.

Go-Go Boots, however, does suffer from an unfortunate Cooley deficiency. Cooley doesn’t write that many songs in the first place, and his lack of prolificacy was exacerbated by the fact that the band decided to make two albums at once at the exact moment he was going through a bit of a writer’s block. As a result, he was forced to pull a few older, previously unreleased songs off the pile for both The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots. And even though his three contributions here are all great—I especially love “Cartoon Gold,” which is vintage Cooley as far as lyrics go (“Getting all excited finding nothing that was never there before/Is like bringing flowers to your mama and tracking dogshit all over the floor”)—they’re also rather quiet and understated, and feel less integral to the album than Cooley’s songs have at any time since Gangstabilly. Even his guitar playing—at least until he goes apeshit all over Patterson’s soaring wedding dance ballad “Mercy Buckets,” one of my absolute favorite DBT songs—seems scaled back.

As a result, Patterson has a little more space to ruminate than usual, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your tolerance for stories about preacher killin’. In fact, both the title track and “The Fireplace Poker” are about the same exact thing – a true life tale involving a Colbert County, Alabama preacher, his mistress, and a couple of guys he paid to off his wife. Due to the songs’ lengthy running times, this sordid saga takes up over a fifth of the album’s running time. That might wear on the patience of some, but I find the story pretty fascinating and I think both songs are fantastic. I like them for the same reason I like the whole album – are they a bit bloated? Sure. But that bloat is rendered with the utmost craft, and as such  it becomes very difficult to distinguish the prime cut from the excess fat. It’s all delicious.

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