Critically acclaimed alternative country/Southern Rock band the Drive-By Truckers dropped their much-anticipated new record, “English Oceans,” yesterday. It’s their first album since 2011’s hard-hitter “Go-Go Boots” and, though the band has experienced some internal changes since then, “English Oceans” is a solid collection of music with challenging lyrics and some searing guitar riffs.
The three years between “Boots” and “Oceans” saw the Truckers lose female vocalist Shonna Tucker, whose haunting soprano lent much to several favorite ballads from their past records (“The Big To-Do’s” “You’ve Got Another,” “Dirty South’s” “The Purgatory Line”). The band’s sound stays strong without Tucker, though, and lead vocalists and founding members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley hold their own (obviously) throughout “Oceans,” with Hood’s almost-crude-but-still-pretty Southern warble making an especially bold statement on the album’s single, “Pauline Hawkins,” and album closer “Grand Canyon,” both written by him.
As per usual, Hood and Cooley penned all the songs on the album, but Cooley took a little more of the reins this time than on previous records. His deep, classically Southern-yet-Western voice lends itself well to title track “Made Up English Oceans,” in which the background guitar beat sounds almost “Lone Ranger”-esque. However, the choice for Cooley to vocalize “Hearing Jimmy Loud” rather than Hood might have been a mistake—the lyrics and feel of the song practically beg for Hood’s unique style of crooning.
The album’s gentlest track—musically, at least—is “Hanging On,” a narrative song about a boy leaving home that was both written by and sung by Hood (“So you pack up all your things / and cut those apron strings / and set out for a drastic change of scene”). While Hood does have experience with acoustic ballads (“A Blessing and a Curse’s” “Goodbye,” Decoration Day’s” “(Something’s Got to) Give Pretty Soon”), “Hanging On” is the only song on “Oceans” in which Shonna Tucker’s voice is sorely missed.
When stacked up against their earlier works (“The Dirty South,” “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark”), “English Oceans” leaves a little something to be desired. But overall, the Truckers’ newest album does deliver the power chords and moving stanzas that fans have become accustomed to over the band’s nearly two-decade career.
Photo by David McClister
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