Distilling this to just 16 songs proved a challenge
Drive-By Truckers has long been one of the best bands in America, and the five-album run it entered into beginning in 2001 — Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, The Dirty South, A Blessing and a Curse and Brighter Than Creation's Dark — rivals that of any modern artist. If you're still not familiar with the Southern rockers' deep, rewarding catalog, here, in chronological order, is a mixtape to help get you primed for the band's concert at Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
“The Living Bubba”
This song, off the band's 1998 debut album, Gangstabilly, tells the tale of a road-warrior musician ravaged by AIDS who refuses to give in. It's heartfelt and resilient, and reveals just how fully formed this band was from the jump.
“Margo and Harold”
An early acoustic character sketch that showcases Patterson Hood's novelistic eye for detail.
“The Southern Thing”
Southern Rock Opera's central themes are distilled on this burner, which examines the “duality of the southern thing.”
“Angels and Fuselage”
This mournful ballad takes listeners onboard the tragic final flight of Lynyrd Skynyrd. “The engines have stopped now. … I'm scared shitless of what's coming next,” Hood sings, unaware the answer will eventually be immortality.
The Jason Isbell-penned title track delves into a violent Hill/Lawson family feud that spans generations.
“Puttin' People on the Moon”
Hood at his most righteously angry, eviscerating political ineptitude, hypocrisy and misplaced priorities via a down-and-out blue-collar worker who watches his wife die of cancer as politicians and preachers twiddle their thumbs.
“Carl Perkins' Cadillac”
Mike Cooley's breezy contribution pines for a time when a man's word was gold. Also, “Life ain't nothing but a blending up of all the ups and downs” is as succinct and accurate a portrait of living as you're going to get.
“Goddamn Lonely Love”
Isbell's beautifully rendered ballad signaled the direction he would eventually take in his solo career.
The protagonist of Cooley's bruised ballad mourns the death of his wife while wandering Huntsville, Alabama (aka Space City), which he describes thusly: “One hour up the road from me/One hour away from as close to the moon as anybody down here is ever gonna be.”
Another classic Cooley character study about a loner who “always had more dogs than friends,” and the rumors that circled his quiet existence.
“That Man I Shot”
Hood has always written about military veterans with deep insight and empathy (see also: “The Sands of Iwo Jima”), and this haunted rocker hits like a night terror as a soldier grapples with the reality of taking a life.
You can almost smell the cigarette smoke and spilled liquor in Cooley's rendering of a career stripper.
“Used to Be a Cop”
The figure at the center of this tale is less tragic than toxic, gradually pushing away everything in his life — be it job or wife — until he's left alone thinking of how things used to be.
“Shit Shots Count”
Cooley's at his plainspoken best on this rural rocker. “Friday night rich is all you're ever gonna be,” is the perfect summation of tough economic times.
“Surrender Under Protest”
A muscular anthem that wades into the controversy over the Confederate flag and somehow manages to strike an empathetic balance.
“What It Means”
Hood takes stock of the current political and social climate on this angry, sharply written missive, which takes on everything from the killings of unarmed black teenagers to the willful dismissal of science. Profound (“We want our truths all fair and balanced/As long as our notions lie within it”) and profane (“There's no sunlight in our asses/And our heads are stuck up in it”).