Drive-By Truckers – Tickets – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC – December 31st, 2012

Drive-By Truckers

Drive-By Truckers

North Mississippi Allstars Duo

Mon 12/31/12

8:00 pm

Complimentary Champagne Toast at Midnight!

Drive-By Truckers - (Set time: 10:45 PM)
Drive-By Truckers
English Oceans, the 12th release by Athens, Georgia's Drive-By Truckers, is an elegantly balanced and deeply engaged new effort that finds the group refreshed and firing on all cylinders.

All but one of the collection's 13 new songs, written by singer-guitarists and co-founding members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, were recorded during 13 days of sessions in August 2013 with longtime producer David Barbe.

Six of the songs were the result of a burst of writing activity by Cooley.

"I had time to write," Cooley says. "After we came off the road last time, we decided we were going to let it rest for a while. So I had time to really focus. I kind of had to re-learn how to write, because I didn't write as many songs as I'd wanted on the last couple of records. I was happy with these songs, and thrilled to go in and record so many that I felt real strongly about."

Hood notes, "I don't think we've ever had a record where Cooley was as deeply involved in every aspect of the making of it as he was this time. With Cooley's writing, there's almost no precedent for it in our catalog. He came in with this stunning bunch of songs, full of this beautiful imagery."

Writing independently, Cooley and Hood penned songs that dovetailed brilliantly with each other. Hood says, "Every song on this record connects with another song. I noticed Cooley's got a line in 'Primer Coat' about 'apron strings,' and I have the exact same image in one of my songs, 'Hanging On.' It goes on and on and on like that on this record, and that's a pretty good sign for things, particularly given how different our temperaments are and our styles of writing are."

Cooley and Hood's brace of character-based songs depict a neatly interlocking gallery of relationships, often in dissolution and discord. The last song written and recorded for the album, Hood's rave-up "Pauline Hawkins," was based on a new novel by Willy Vlautin and penned after another of his compositions was scrapped.

Hood says, "There was such a balance between Cooley's songs and my songs that taking a song off the record would upset the balance a little bit. I liked the back-and-forth flow, like our shows tend to do. I got an advance copy of Willy's latest book, The Free. I've been a fan of his writing for a while. I read it in about three days. I finished it on Saturday, I wrote the song on Sunday, and then we cut it on Thursday and mastered the record on the following Monday. It sure makes it a better record."

DBT's ever-keen political edge can be seen in two songs on the release. Cooley's "Made Up English Oceans" derives from his interest in the career of Lee Atwater, the Republican operative who was active in the Reagan and Bush campaigns of the '80s. "He was the guy that Karl Rove and all of the modern dirty tricksters looked to – he was one of the granddaddies of it all. That song is from his point of view, fictionally of course. It's him making his pitch, telling what he understands about young, Southern men."

Hood says "The Part of Him" was inspired by the procession of scandals that plague the political world year after year. "It's about political assholery -- there's someone new playing that role every few months," he says. "As soon as we get rid of one of them, someone comes up and starts playing that part again."

Reflecting the renewed high level of collaboration between the band's two principals, English Oceans marks an unprecedented event: the recording of a Hood song, "Til He's Dead or Rises," with Cooley assuming the lead vocal.

Cooley says, "I remember Patterson was getting frustrated trying to sing it. He was doing fine, but it seemed like there was something he wanted to do that wasn't coming. I was in the control room thinking, 'I could probably sing this' -- though it wasn't like I was saying, 'Oh, I can sing this a lot better than that.' I was thinking, 'This sounds like something I could sing.' Right after that, he walks into the control room and says, 'You want to trying singing this? It sounds more like you than me.' I said, 'Yeah, I was just thinking that.'"

"Grand Canyon," the final song on the album, is an emotionally overwhelming elegy for Craig Lieske, a longtime member of DBT's touring family. The former manager of Athens' 40 Watt Club and a key player in the city's experimental music scene, Lieske died suddenly of a heart attack in January 2013 following the first night of the band's three-night homecoming stand in Athens. English Oceans is dedicated to him.

"I probably wrote it in 15 minutes," Hood says. "It wasn't any kind of a conscious thing. It's the most important song of mine on the record. I wrote new songs to go with it. It recalibrated something. It became a totally different record for me than the record I thought we were going to make."

The album was recorded with a compact, retooled lineup. Jay Gonzalez, who joined the band in 2008 as keyboardist, stepped into an expanded role by adding guitar to his duties, while bassist Matt Patton was drafted from the Tuscaloosa group The Dexateens. The unit was road-tested during dates in 2013.

Cooley says, "This lineup is so direct. It can go from this chainsaw rock 'n' roll to very delicate, pretty-sounding stuff. We wrote a lot of those kinds of songs, and this lineup got all of that well."
Hood agrees: "We recorded with a stripped-down lineup that gave things a more primal and immediate feel. It's a more turn-on-a-dime kind of thing, which suits these songs, and us as a band. It's a very tasteful group, and when it needs to be it can be a very big, powerful, over-the-top band, too, and it can go from one to the other seamlessly."

Looking at the accomplishments of English Oceans from the perspective of DBT's nearly three-decade history, both Cooley and Hood decline to hedge their bets on the quality of their latest work.
"You're always hesitant to say, 'Oh, this is the best record we've ever made,'" Cooley says, "because you always want to. And sometimes you say it, and sometimes you're right, and sometimes you think, 'Well, maybe I jumped the gun on that a little bit, I got excited.' But I think this just might be the best record we've ever made."

Hood concurs enthusiastically: "It's my favorite thing that we've ever done. I'm proud of our catalog – we always try to make as good a record as we can make. Sometimes things just work. This time, we made kind of a magical record. I've always felt that Decoration Day was our best record, and this is the first one that I think is a better record than that was. Every piece of the puzzle fit."
North Mississippi Allstars Duo - (Set time: 9:15 PM)
North Mississippi Allstars Duo
In the beginning, a father passed away and a child was born. Luther and Cody Dickinson lost their father, Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson, only months before Luther became one. Jim had always told them, “You need to be playing music together. You are better together than you will ever be apart.” Coincidentally, the Dickinson brothers were not together when Jim passed. At that moment, they were both off on their own, Luther with The Black Crowes and Cody with the Hill Country Revue. So in the spring of 2010, the North Mississippi Allstars reformed and went into the Zebra Ranch, the family’s recording studio where they had spent countless hours together with their dad, to create a record that could help them cope with the loss, and, at the same time, rejoice in his honor. The first line of Jim’s self-written eulogy was, “I refuse to celebrate death.” Luther, Cody and Chris Chew took heed and aimed to celebrate life instead; and the songs for the new record, Keys to the Kingdom (Songs of the South), came pouring out of their souls.

“As is our family's tradition, we gathered in our homemade studio and recorded,” Luther says. “We carried on as we've been taught and dealt the only way we know, by making music. Our dad used to say that production-in-absentia is the highest form of production. The credits read: ‘Produced for Jim Dickinson.’ Keys to the Kingdom is definitely our finest collaboration.”

Very close friends of the family joined the band in fellowship to see NMA through this deepest of moments, among them Mavis Staples, Ry Cooder, Spooner Oldham, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Gordie Johnson and Jack Ashford (Motown Funk Brother tambourine player). All had collaborated with Jim and the boys over the years at one point or another and feel a deep kinship with the Dickinson family to this day.

Keys to the Kingdom is a song cycle, a celebratory declaration of life in the face of death as well as a musical interpretation of the Dickinson family's recent experience with the cycle of life, written and recorded honestly, fast and raw. There are moments of rock 'n roll rebellion and sexified blues, but the heart of the record reflects the journey that traverses through the mirrored gates of life and death.

“It’s said that anger is the first stage of grief and that’s how the album begins – angry,” says Luther. As such, the first song, “This A'Way,” kicks in with a boogied-up guitar line and quickly introduces the rallying cry of “I hate to be treated this a’way,” soon to be followed by the clattering country punk of “Jumpercable Blues,” with the screams of “Hey, hey, well, well, well, all y’all can go straight to hell!” It’s them against the world, gathering their gumption and keeping one another strong. The family will stay together and it will grow and carry on with its traditions in tact. This is the battle.

From there, the boys explore varying meditations on mortality, often from the perspective of their father as he is preparing to die. The songs grasp the subject matter with fierce honesty yet never become maudlin. From the Mavis Staples ghost-dance gospel soul of “The Meeting,” in which one struts and swaggers confidently through the pearly gates with head held high, to the Replacements meets Big Star-inspired rock of “How I Wish My Train Would Come,” which speaks of actually desiring to move beyond life’s struggles, to “Hear the Hills,” which depicts the acceptance and letting go experience of the final moments of a life well lived and loved, we find the boys looking for meaning and answers as they work through their pain. Spooner Oldham, Jim’s favorite piano player, lends a hand on these last two songs. Luther chose Oldham to play the “piano from heaven,” and blends it beautifully with a recording of Mississippi bugs conversing on a desolate hot summer night. As the song fades, it sounds like a distant country church house somewhere off in the woods.

Luther explains the inspiration: “When we were little children, we lived in a house on a dirt road in between a juke joint and a lake where local churches held baptismal services. I remember hearing the music come through the woods at night and on Sunday mornings.”

The one cover on the record is Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.”

“One night, while in the hospital, dad had the great idea that ‘Stuck Inside’ could be done as a one-chord hill country blues song,” Luther shares. “He couldn’t talk so he wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed the idea to me. I promised him then that we would do it.”

“’Let It Roll,’ ‘Ol’ Cannonball’ and ‘Ain’t None O’ Mine’ are some of the most hardcore traditional blues originals NMA have ever laid down on tape,” says Luther. The former is a new take on a song he wrote and recorded three days after Jim passed away and originally released on a record called Luther Dickinson & The Sons of Mudboy. “Ol’ Cannonball is played in the acoustic string band tradition with Alvin Youngblood Hart on vocals and harmonica. “Ain’t None O’ Mine,” drunk on juke-joint, Peavey-amp distortion and reverb, is inspired by Otha Turner’s lusty tales of old-time, late-night country courtship and provides a necessary aspect of the cycle of life – sex.

In between these three songs, sits the emotional centerpiece of the record, the ultimate love letter from a son to his lost father, “Ain’t No Grave.” The song features Jim’s old partner in crime Ry Cooder on guitar and is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, gut wrenching and empowering.

Says Luther, “I woke up one morning on NMA’s bus, and the lyrics to ‘Ain’t No Grave’ came to me as fast I could write them. That night, after the show, I picked up a guitar, opened my lyric book and the melody came to me just as easily. The song is brutally honest and heartfelt.”

NMA ends the cycle with two somewhat lighter takes on death. “New Orleans Walkin’ Dead” is a humorous zombie-rock take on the notion of resurrection, while “Jellyrollin’ All Over Heaven” is in the spirit of a New Orleans funeral procession during which the marching band plays uplifting and joyful music on the return parade from the burying ground. Once again, Oldham plays his angelic piano, and the bugs carry the spirit of the Mississippi night as they have for thousands of years and the record fades to black.

Jim always advised in a very no-nonsense way, “Play every note as if it's your last because one of them will be,” and that’s just what NMA set out to do on Keys to the Kingdom. The results are powerfully played and deeply visceral as the best blues music is - spiritual without being god fearing, heavy without being depressing.

“In the end,” Luther says, “We recorded our best country blues and Mississippi rock ‘n roll record yet -- as if our lives depended on it.” Ten years after the release of their debut album, Shake Hands with Shorty, Chew sums it up: “This is grown folks music.”

On Keys to the Kingdom, some children are born and others become adults; naïve idealism gets squashed by stark realism, yet there is no choice but to move on, and so they do -- the quest for joy, celebration and truth palpable in every note of the mighty NMA sound.
Venue Information:
9:30 Club
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001