For their latest record Go-Go Boots, southern rockers the Drive-By Truckers ditch the dark, noisy tendencies of last year’s The Big To-Do, and opt for a cleaner, brighter collection of soul and country tunes.
From the start, it is clear that Go-Go Boots is not a typical Truckers album. “I Do Believe,” a great retro-pop tune, shows front man Patterson Hood at his most carefree and weightless. The song opens the album with Hood’s a cappella vocals: “I do believe I saw you standing there, sunlight in your hair.” The band then bursts in, offering bright guitars and organs that compliment the light subject matter (which includes a shout-out to 60’s R&B singer Percy Sledge).
The Truckers make good use of their influences throughout Go-Go Boots. On bassist Shonna Tucker’s bar room ballad “Dancin’ Ricky,” the lead guitar lines are practically lifted from an Otis Redding record. Organ parts in “Used to Be a Cop” and the title track owe some debt to Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” The album’s closer, “Mercy Buckets,” seems to be a culmination of all these influences: the song contains a few blistering guitar solos, some organ and piano parts, and a chorus that explodes into a sweet harmony.
Elsewhere, courtesy of guitarist Mike Cooley, the Truckers sound more like a country band than they ever have before. Cooley’s three songs for the record (“Cartoon Gold,” “The Weakest Man,” and “Pulaski”) each maintain a stripped back, classic country vibe. The use of acoustic guitars and traditional bluegrass instruments like banjoes and steel guitars adds to the stripped down atmosphere here. The best of Cooley’s tunes here is “The Weakest Man,” which evokes, through a harmony-fueled chorus, any great up-tempo Willie Nelson song.
The original songs from Go-Go Boots are rounded off by a pair of covers by songwriter Eddie Hinton, who was a close friend of Hood’s father. “Where’s Eddie” is a quiet rocker sung by Tucker, who comes alive as the song explodes with organ in its last minute. The other Hinton tune, “Everybody Needs Love” is the Drive By-Truckers at their best. Hood is forced to break out of his Southern drawl and display a little soul on this tune, and he does so with flying colors. The band plays along with its best 60’s-soul tribute (organs, guitars, and tons of reverb) and the result is superb.
Overall, Go-Go Boots is a fine example of the Drive-By Truckers’ ability to expand their sound and adapt to different genres. This is a band with a great deal of musical knowledge and experience, and Go-Go Boots is the sound of the Truckers realizing their potential.