Album Review: Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans

The Drive-By Truckers are one of the most-popular, well-respected bands in all of the subgenre of Americana music. Check out what we have to say about their latest album English Oceans, their first collection of new music in three years.

Although just as equally saturated in sadness, “Grand Canyon” is a strikingly different type of character study. It was inspired by Craig Lieske, a former member of Drive-By Truckers’ touring collective that died of a heart attack in 2013. When Hood remembers Lieske, he fondly recalls a time they both spent admiring the majestic Grand Canyon. The big, beautiful natural phenomenon that is the Grand Canyon becomes a metaphor for the unexplainable, and death is one such unexplainable. But instead of dwelling on how hurt he is by his friend’s recent passing, Hood decides to focus on beauty – the beauty of nature and the beauty of close friendships – to help bring closure. He sings it over a slow, descending chord progression accented by hard, heavy and steady percussion. When recalling this impactful encounter with nature, Hood meditates on the two men’s unusually quiet awe. “We probably didn’t say anything,” he recollects, and later adds, “We let the spirits do the talking.” 

Drive-By Truckers have never disguised their equal affection for both rock (the hard kind) and country music. However, “A Part of Him” trots to a distinctively country beat, along with a recurring twang-y melodic motif. Lyrically, though, it features some of Hood’s most biting words. He describes it as composite of dishonest politicians (Are there even any other kind?). Hood nearly spits out, “He was an absolute piece of shit, to tell the truth/But he never told the truth to me/He never told the truth to you/Don’t think he ever set out to/He was indifferent to honesty.” Solidifying this man’s utter evil, he twists the knife with the line “His own mamma called him an SOB.” 

The jangle rock that drives Cooley’s “Primer Coat” is more representative of what Drive-By Truckers’ do most often. It’s an odd story song, in that nothing really happens, plot-wise. Instead, the lyric gives an overview of one man’s family life. For the patriarch of this familial unit, the wedding of his daughter signals his slow impending death because when a child is married off, something dies inside a man. The Cooley composed “Shit Shots Count” also jukes and jives with Stones-y swagger. The track even features a full-bodied horn part toward the end.

Listening to Drive-By Truckers music rarely bolsters your faith in humanity. With songs populated by losers and various other unlucky ones, it can be a little bit like a more serious version of the Jerry Springer TV program at times. Nevertheless, their music is filled with plenty of sincerity and heart. This is the real American South, not the glossy Sunday paper photo spread presented in most mainstream Southern pride songs. Dig in for an unfiltered dose of reality, if you dare.