A lot of people die in Drive-By Truckers songs, by all manner of affliction, from terminal ailments to family feuds and everything in between. However, emerging from a pandemic, and following a trio of heavily political albums, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley (like many of us) seem to be struck by their own mortality. The band’s latest record, Welcome 2 Club XIII, teases as a look back on their formative years, but with nostalgia comes the realization that the road ahead is far shorter than what we see in that hazy rear view mirror.
Welcome 2 Club XIII begins with the kind of pensive growler that’s an old Trucker specialty. Over snarling guitars, Hood speaks more than sings about decades worth of late-night drives and tour van trips. Between the conspiratol tone in Hood’s voice, ethereal vocals from Mississippi singer-songwriter Schaefer Llana, and at least two searing guitar solos backing up the fragments and images – “I saw that Honda full of girls go airborne into the trees” – you’re never quite sure which tales are true and which got misshapen in the passage of time, but all of that adds to the songs low-grade fever feel.
The Truckers haven’t typically brought in a whole bunch of guests on their records, but they enticed a couple of big ones to stop by Club XIII. Mike Mills of R.E.M. (one of DBT’s biggest influences) shows up on “Maria’s Awful Disclosures,” a Cooley-penned tale of sordid misdeeds at a Montreal convent. Likewise, Margo Price chips in backing vocals (along with husband Jeremy Ivey on harmonica) on “Forged in Hell and Heaven Sent,” a mid-tempo look at the passage of time as friends make their way in and out of each others’ lives – “The things that kept us youngest came pounding down upon us.”
The album’s title track brings in guests of another sort – memories of people and bands from Club XIII, a Tennessee dive just across the state line from the dry counties of Northern Alabama. The club itself, which hosted Cooley and Hood during their formative years as Adam’s House Cat, is portrayed as the Stefon of rock clubs, because the place has EVERYTHING – “Foghat cover band[s], “girls warmed up by tanning beds” and “sidewinders in spandex” – and it’s exactly the type of club you’d want to accidentally discover. The Truckers even find time for self-deprecation, referencing their own predilection for “train songs and people who died,” but it’s a much-welcomes look back at the first years of a band now three decades in. So when the record reaches its conclusion in “Wilder Days,” a relatively somber look at “life’s exalting reveries,” the melancholy that comes with growing old is balanced out by the kind of cockeyed optimism that only the Truckers could attain – “I find it best to laugh at the absurdity of life above the ground/There’s no comfort in survival, but it’s still the best option that I’ve found.” Lending the last vocal track to the young Llana, DBT shows that they’ve found the sweet spot between burning out and fading away – just keep finding folks who want to make good music.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Every Single Storied Flameout” – jagged guitar riffs, a horn section and Cooley casually dropping killer lines like “If I’d been my example I’d be worse.”
Welcome 2 Club XIII was produced, recorded, engineered and mixed by David Barbe and mastered by Greg Calbi. All songs were written by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Drive-By Truckers are Cooley (vocals, guitars), Hood (vocals, guitars), Brad Morgan (drums, percussion), Jay Gonzalez (guitars, keyboards), and Matt Patton (bass). Additional musicians on the album include Barbe (organ, percussion) Schaefer Llana (background vocals), Mike Mills (background vocals), Margo Price (backing vocals), Jeremy Ivey (harmonica), Scott Danbom (fiddle), Randall Bramblett (tenor sax), Tom Ryan (baritone sax) and J.R. Beckwith (trumpet).
Order Welcome 2 Club XIII (out June 3) here: https://drivebytruckers.shop.musictoday.com/dept/purchasing-hold?cp=407_72977
Check out tour dates here: https://www.drivebytruckers.com/shows.html