ATO Records is pleased to commence its relationship with the The Drive-By Truckers beginning with the incomparable rock band's label debut, The Big To-Do. The album is the band's 10th in their thirteen-year career and it features 13 new DBT tracks produced by their long time collaborator, David Barbe (Sugar, Bettye LaVette). Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley continue to handle chief songwriting duties here while bassist Shonna Tucker also contributes two originals. Brad Morgan (drums), John Neff (guitar/pedal steel), and Jay Gonzalez (keyboards) round out the current lineup.
The Big To-Do was recorded in three concentrated sessions during the first part of 2009: ten days in January, five days in March, ten days in May. That added up to 25 songs, a dozen of which sequenced into The Big To-Do. We had it mixed, mastered, and completely done, and Cooley wrote the best song that just needed to be on it, Patterson says with his raspy chuckle. This happens a lot with the Truckers, and it's always a good sign. So we went back in and recorded, mixed, and mastered 'Birthday Boy' pretty much in one fell swoop. Thirteen songs, then. The balance of the remaining tracks, plus five more they've cut in the interim, will make up the Truckers' next album, which Patterson projects as a quieter affair. This is, in large part, possible because the Truckers have such a long-standing relationship with David Barbe (ex-Sugar, etc.) and the Athens, GA, studio he calls Chase Park Transduction, which long ago Patterson helped to build so as to earn the right to record there.
It's gotten to where, that day of set-up time to get sounds and levels and all of that takes us about two hours, Patterson says. We can pretty much walk in the door, and we know exactly where to put everything to get that sound, so that's just one less thing to have to think about. I wanted to eliminate the distractions. That clarity of purpose translates into a delicious assortment of Trucker songs themed loosely around crime and (self-) punishment. The Wig He Made Her Wear, Patterson says, is both a true story (as seen on Court TV) and the closest he's come to making the movie he started out to make a decade or more back. The Fourth Night of My Drinking will speak for itself, and This Fucking Job (paired thematically with Cooley's wry Get Downtown) is arguably the most political song the Truckers have made since Living Bubba. Which leaves the deceptive, airy simplicity of Shonna Tucker's You Got Another and (It's Gonna Be) I Told You So to reckon with. We always knew she had that in her, Patterson says, delighted with the emergence of another strong songwriter in the band. It was never a secret. She was writing songs all along. But watching it come out has been a really amazing thing to behold.
Off the road, incidentally, didn't mean out of work. First off, there was the matter of cutting an instrumental album with the legendary Booker T, having previously served as the backing band to the equally legendary soul singer, Bettye Lavette. Potato Hole turned out all right, got a Grammy nod, and Neil Young added his touches separately even though it's pretty much a Truckers effort. But it's what they learned making Potato Hole that counts most. I think doing the Booker album really, really paid off a lot on the musical end of this record, even though stylistically it might not sound anything like that record, says Patterson, and then tells the story.
We made that record in four days, and that included the first day when it was, 'Booker, it's wonderful to meet you!' Maybe the third song we tracked just wasn't going the way he wanted it to go. We weren't quite understanding what he wanted. We were playing it right, but it wasn't right. All the sudden he just stopped the session. He gathered us around, and he told us a story about a Thanksgiving dinner, and the way it smelt in the house, he'd been on the road a long time, and they were all in - cousins and aunts he hadn't seen in several years. He said, 'It's just a day where nothing happens, but it's all really good.'
And we sat down and we played it, and we nailed it. It was like a revelation. We're a lyric-driven band, and our songs generally paint scenes and tell stories based on scenes. He instinctively knew that was how we operated. And I think it taught us a lot about how we operated. Going in and making this record, I could tell a real difference in the way the songs hold up musically. We put a little more care into that side of it than I think we ever did before because of what we learned from him.
...an absorbing hunk of smart, crunchy, guitar-driven music shot through with the bands vivid narratives, balanced storytelling, barroom punch, and Southern accents. Its a set that portrays desperate people trying to survive in these ever more desperate times, with the Truckers joyous pride and spirited attitude warding off any bitter aftertaste. Several songs are sad, and at times depressing, but the moods always point up. As it is for Bruce Springsteen, this blue-collar band not only believes in but preaches rock as salvation, and their iron-clad conviction suggests they wont have it any other way. --Bob Gendron, TONE Audio, Issue 27
1. Daddy Learned to Fly
2. The Fourth Night of My Drinking
3. Birthday Boy
4. Drag the Lake Charlie
5. The Wig He Made Her Wear
6. You Got Another
7. This Fucking Job
8. Get Downtown
9. After the Scene Dies
10. (It's Gonna Be) I Told You So
11. Santa Fe
12. The Flying Wallendas
13. Eyes Like Glue
14. Girls Who Smoke (vinyl only bonus track)