73.) The Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South (2004)
I've spent a lot of this list talking about great songwriters and even recently called John Darnielle the Albert Pujols of contemporary songwriting. And I certainly stand by that. He's an amazing songwriter. But he's just one guy.
By the time The Dirty South was released in 2004, The Drive-By Truckers boasted three superb songwriters in their line-up - Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and the since departed Jason Isbell - and though they were together for only a short while (three records) the legacy of that line-up lives on in their records.
I'm a guy from New York who loves country music. But, there's a caveat because I'm a real snob when it comes to the genre. I hate when pop singers try to pass themselves off as "country" so they can have a number one record and I hate slickly produced country music when it should be down and dirty and it should tell a story. The Drive-by Truckers have probably been more countryfied on previous records, but The Dirty South is still country music at it's best.
The Truckers tell fourteen stories on this record, some loosely tied together others bonded by a specific theme and characters. The themes are dense and heady, but the songs are played with an abandon that renders them accessible.
The Dirty South is a record fully and truly about the South. That's probably the most important thing about it. It's a record captures something because that is what it sets out to do. The designs were grand, but they were met full on.
In their lyrics the Truckers give voices to characters most artists wouldn't even attempt to write about. Whether writing about a man who has to turn to selling drugs after loosing his job at the Ford plant in the Reagan era (the classic "Puttin' People on the Moon") or turning the Buford Pusser saga on its head by telling the story from the gang that beat him's point of view (the three songs suite "The Boys From Alabama", "Cottonseed", and "The Buford Stick"), no one is left out in the Truckers universe and songwriting in this decade is richer for it.
I am a huge DBTs fan. Huge. They are one of my favorite bands and The Dirty South was not a surprise to me. I have come to expect to hear great things whenever the Truckers release a new record and that has consistently been the case since I started listening to them back in 2002.
Having said that, The Dirty South feels like a watershed moment for the band. The record stands alone in the canon as the time when this particular line-up jelled in a way they maybe hadn't before and wouldn't again. For a full seventy minutes (an eternity for a record these days) you're in and you're with them because they don't give you a choice. They wrote some of their finest songs for this record and presented them as a fully realized work about a place, but no specific time. It's an epic record that spans decades and looks at what is truth and what is fiction and how sometimes fictionalized truth is the truest truth of all (jeez - pretentiobot much!)
Also, The Dirty South has "Danko/Manuel" and "Goddamn Lonely Love" and if Jason Isbell ever writes a better song than either of them I won't know what to do.
Posted by Pat Driscoll