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2023 Albums Thing 119 - Drive-By Truckers “The Dirty South”

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Not just my favourite Truckers album but one of my favourite albums full stop. Were I forced to set in stone a top 10 favourite albums this would definitely be in that list. There’s not a bad song in here, not a note or a lyric that isn’t exactly where it should be. There aren’t many records I’ve played as much as this one in the past 20 years. Not many albums to me are utter perfection (“Never Mind The Bollocks…”, “All Mod Cons”, “Handsworth Revolution” are all that), “The Dirty South” is definitely one of them… it’s magical.

 Son come running, Better come quick, This rot-gut moonshine is making me sick,

Your Mama called the law, They’re gonna take me away, Down so far even the Devil don’t stay

The lyric above derives from track 1, side 1 “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” a brooding Southern Gothic masterpiece about rich folks, moonshiners, drunkeness and illegal card games down in the holler. It feels as dark and humid as an Alabama night should, ominous. It’s a song I can listen to over and over and if Mike Cooley had never written another lyric he’d be a genius in my eyes just for this song alone.

“The Dirty South” harks back to the themes of “Southern Rock Opera”, an album about the South and all its complexities. Jason Isbell’s contributions to “Decoration Day” seem to have driven Paterson Hood and Mike Cooley to new songwriting heights. We’re taken on another journey through (or should that be thru ?) the South, where “Tornadoes” rip through towns and leave them devastated and all anyone can remember is “it sounded like a train”; Patterson Hood takes a stab at re-writing a great American legend with “The Day John Henry Died” but in this story “John Henry was a steel driving bastard, but John Henry was a bastard just the same”; In “Puttin’ People On The Moon” Hood lays out how Reagan’s US ground down ordinary Alabamans while the government spent millions at NASA in Hunstville AL “If I could solve the world's problems, I'd probably start with hers and mine, But they can put a man on the moon. And I'm stuck in Muscle Shoals just barely scraping by”; Cooley’s “Carl Perkins Cadillac” is a trip back in time to the golden age of Sun Records “Mr. Phillips never said anything behind nobody's back, Like "Dammit Elvis, don't he know, he ain't no Johnny Cash" “.

And on it goes, song after fantastic song, lyric after devastating lyric. Songs of veterans “George A. never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima”…of musical heroes like “Danko/Manuel”…two songs about the legend of Sherriff Buford Pusser who was immortalised in the movie “Walking Tall”…in “Cottonseed” Cooley reports on a former felon who “put more lawmen in the ground than Alabama put cottonseed” who on release from incarceration is asked to tell some schoolchildren the error of his ways, except he tells them “Stories of corruption, crime and killing, yes it's true, Greed and fixed elections, guns and drugs and whores and booze”…“Daddy’s Cup” might on the surface be about racing jalopies but it’s also about the close relationship between a father and son…

It all comes to a close with Jason Isbell’s second Truckers classic “Goddamn Lonely Love”. I don’t think the Truckers have played this since Isbell departed the band but it still occasionally pops up in Jason’s sets to this day, it’s a quite superb song “So I'll take two of what you're having, I'll take all of what you got, To kill this goddamn lonely, goddamn lonely love”.

Since I first came across this album it’s been a constant companion, I’ve played it to death, I absolutely adore it. These songs paint a picture for me of a South that probably no longer exists but is one I would love to have seen, illegal moonshine stills, kids playing barefoot in the yard, big ostentatious Cadillacs and hot sweaty summer nights picking tunes out on the porch. I’d say the two previous albums (“Southern Rock Opera” and “Decoration Day”) this and the next (“A Blessing And A Curse”) represent the Truckers at their absolute peak and I’d urge you to lend an ear to any of them, but especially “The Dirty South”.

Where The Devil Don’t Stay - https://youtu.be/ubVlAbZsUTA

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