“The Righteous Path” from the album Brighter than Creation’s Dark
“I’m Sorry Huston” from the album Brighter than Creation’s Dark
Critically-acclaimed Athens, Ga., Southern-rawkers The Drive-By Truckers — guitarists/vocalists Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, drummer Brad Morgan, bassist Shonna Tucker, and guitarist/pedal steel player John Neff — take the Music Farm stage on Thursday in their first Charleston appearance since the release of their studio album, Brighter than Creation’s Dark — a 19-song double-album follow-up to last year’s A Blessing and a Curse.
Things are very busy for the Truckers. They recently finished a massive tour through the South and the Northeast, and appearanced at a number of spring festivals. They performed for their third time on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, strumming through “Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife” in March. They were recently featured on National Public Radio’s program The World Café with David Dye as well.
Brighter than Creation’s Dark continues down the path of inclusiveness, featuring original songs by the two main writers, Hood and Cooley, as well as new stuff from Tucker. The album also features contributions from Muscle Shoals, Ala., songwriter, organist, and longtime Hood family pal Spooner Oldham. New West Records describes it as a “75-plus minute Southern Gothic rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece.”
“The entire record has a certain mood and vibe about it,” says Hood. “It’s dark and moody … an interesting balancing act. I’m really happy with how it’s gone over so far on these recent tours.”
It’s been over 12 years since Hood first started strumming and hollering his way through his earliest shows in Athens, Ga. Hood used to play solo with an acoustic guitar or in front of whatever assemblage of backing players he could piece together — usually members of Athens group The Possibilities, Japancakes, the Star Room Boys, and pals from northeast Alabama. He specialized in loose sets of twangy rock and country songs, passionate storytelling, and dirty jokes. These were the beginnings of what gradually became the Truckers.
A prolific songwriter through the late ’90s, Hood became more serious and determined as musician and bandleader in the late ’90s. He broke in a more permanent lineup of Truckers and started recording tunes and touring the country.
The “main guy” tag is inaccurate for Hood these days.
“I’m totally happy with my role in the band now,” Hood says. “I can go do a solo record any time. Right now, everything is very together, and everyone’s aiming in the same direction. Artistically, it’s a strength having so many people drive the thing. That’s so essential for this thing to work. If you’ve got anybody who thinks they’re better than the collective group — on any level — its not going to work. The band’s not conducive to … hot-doggery [laughs].”
Brighter than Creation’s Dark is an unusual, cyclothymic journey swirling around three main points — the guitar-heavy style familiar to many Truckers fans (“3 Dimes Down,” “The Righteous”); a more delicate country/rock ballad style (“I’m Sorry Huston” and “The Monument Valley”); and a newer, slower-moving, atmospheric, “pianissimo rock” sound, propelled by Morgan’s brushes-on-the-snare work, beautiful vocal harmonies, acoustic strings, and Neff’s pedal steel (visit “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” and “Daddy Needs a Drink”).
“I think it’s the most cohesive record we’ve ever made,” says Hood. “This time, we didn’t go in with any set agenda. We simply had a bunch of songs, so we just wanted to record as many as we could in 10 days. Listening back, we were surprised at how cohesive it sounded.”
The sense of generosity and balance between the Truckers developed over time — and it survived a few tricky lineup changes. Hood likes to refer to 2007 as a year of transition and reinvention for the band. A break was needed after having been on the road constantly since 2001. There was also an amicable parting of ways with Isbell in the spring.
“He had been an integral part of our musical family for five years and three albums, but personal and creative differences brought about the need for change,” Hood says of his former bandmate, whi currenty fronts his own band, 400 Unit.
Last year also saw the official addition of longtime friend John Neff.
“Neff was part of the original lineup, and has always played with us on and off,” says Hood. “Two or three years ago, we started bringing him along on tours. When Jason decided to do something else, it was the natural thing to put Neff in there full-time. It is such a great chemistry. He plays off of what Cooley does, and it’s so sympathetic and tasteful … you know, when you have three guitar players at once, it better be fucking tasteful, or else it’ll be a mess!”