19.) The Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera (2001)
The Drive-By Truckers' deservedly sterling reputation as a live band sometimes gets them underestimated as a "records" band. Whenever people talk about the Truckers, and I'm guilty of this as well, the phrase "Well, you should really see them live if you haven't" tends to get tacked onto the end of these conversations. And it's true, you should. They're amazing live. But you should also listen to the records. The records are, for the most part, fucking great. And none of them more so than their two disc opus, Southern Rock Opera.
Southern Rock Opera is a big ol ambitious project originally conceived by lead Trucker Patterson Hood as a screenplay. This isn't surprising considering the Truckers' knack for storytelling is top notch, but I'm glad it became a record instead. Basically, SRO studies Southern contradictions, politics, race and rock 'n roll and filters it all through the infamous Lynyrd Skynyrd story. It sounds like a heavy and difficult load, and it is, but the Truckers manage to pull it off with ease.
Whenever you label your rock record a rock opera there are certain expectations. Chief among them - this thing's gonna be pretentious. Southern Rock Opera, thankfully, isn't mired in such trappings. The story on the record is important, hell it's integral to ones enjoyment of it, but first and foremost Southern Rock Opera is rock 'n roll pure and simple. The Drive-By Truckers put on no airs and wear their love of Southern and Classic rock 'n roll on their t-shirts for the world to see. This is music that would sound at home on classic rock radio, but with a depth and a vision worthy of pitchfork level praise.
Southern Rock Opera sounds like it means something. And I don't mean that as if to say it's high and mighty or like it's talking down to you - it's not a U2 record after all - but it sounds important. This is, I would gather, because it meant something to these guys. They have pride in their Southern heritage, but it also gives them pause sometimes. It's a world of contradictions, just like anywhere else, and to understand such things is important in finding comfort. Southern Rock Opera swings for the fences thematically and it scores every time, but what makes it a home run is the music. A record like this, so personal and weighty, could have gotten bogged down in what it wanted to accomplish. That it still accomplishes its lofty goals while simultaneously being some of the best actual music the band has ever recorded makes it a triumph and a record deserving of a high placement on this or any list.
Posted by Pat Driscoll