Jason Isbell departed the Drive-By Truckers following “A Blessing And A Curse” and it all went downhill for me, not just for the Truckers. Isbell’s first solo records (which we’ll get to in time) were patchy at best and something similar happened to the Truckers. Cooley still kept writing at least one incredible song per album but the overall quality of songs suffered badly. It felt like Hood, Cooley and Isbell really pushed each other to write better and once one that trio broke up, everyone’s work suffered.
I still kept an ear on what they were doing and in 2014, 8 years after Isbell’s departure, they released the album “English Oceans” and followed that in 2016 with “American Band” both of which were much more like it to my ears. So when, in 2020, it was announced there would be a new Truckers album I figured I’d shell out and get this one on vinyl.
On “American Band” and here with “The Unravelling” the Truckers have become less of the torch bearers for a South that they see that most others don’t and have become more a band that are openly commentating on the current landscape in American politics. Patterson Hood now dominates the songwriting credits with 7 of the 9 songs here written by him. This may explain why the Truckers no longer hit so hard with me as of their three pricipal songwriters (Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell) Patterson was always third on my preference list.
Most reviews drew attention to the song “Thoughts And Prayers”, a gentle but angry attack on the kind of US politician that has only those platitudes to offer after yet another nut has shot up yet another school/supermarket/shopping mall “Stick it up your ass with your useless thoughts and prayers”. That, alongside “Babies In Cages” are Hood’s stab at the state of America in the Trump years. As he says in the sleeve notes “William Gibson's dark visions have come to pass, everyone is connected and more disconnected than ever. Our children have lock-down drills."
Neither of Cooley’s songs here, “Slow Ride Argument” and “Grievance Merchants" are much to get excited about. A rocker first and a plodder that even he seems to be struggling to work up much enthusiasm for !
It’s an okay album, mercifully short at just over 40 minutes. It’s good but not great, and right or wrong, great is what I came to expect from the Truckers. But I’ll always lend them an ear.
Thoughts And Prayers - https://youtu.be/tkD4xSqNVII