Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling (2020)

The great protest album America desperately needed during the ugly days of the Trump Regime arrived today. And while the Truckers' brand of Southern populism and class-conscious progressivism wedded to gritty roots rock has become increasingly direct on recent albums -- check out the last album's breathtaking "What It Means" for the most moving account of American race relations one could imagine from a white band -- The Unraveling, as the title suggests, is particularly relentless.  Just look at the titles alone -- "Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun," "Heroin Again," "Babies in Cages" -- and you have a sense for what the next hour with the band will sound like.

And while this is one I'll be spinning a few times just to absorb the rich lyrical content, the few I've already soaked up are just fantastic.  The stand-out for me is early single "Thoughts and Prayers," a devastating assessment of our leaders' unwillingness to do anything about the plague of school shootings haunting the nation, culminating in the perfect fuck you to the gun industry shills:  "Stick it up your ass with your useless thoughts and prayers."

Here's the video:
Of course, earnest, heart-felt protest songs only get you so far if the music itself isn't compelling, and the band delivers plenty of catchy tunes, though most are more mid-tempo ballads (and at times reminiscent of past work), with few of the bracing dual-guitar rockers of yore.  One exception is "Armageddon's Back In Town," a rollicking tune which also eschews the explicit politics for a narrative more wrapped in colorful lyrical imagery.

Here's a recent live performance of "Armageddon":
The production is the unspoken star of the record; the songs just sound great, lush and fully-fleshed out, yet burying none of the stark messages.

One of the band's strongest suits has been the interplay between frontmen Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, with Hood's generally more epic grandiosity alternating with Cooley's more direct, Stones-like playfulness.  This time around, Hood dominates, with just a few Cooley leads, but they, too, fit squarely into the album's protest music vibe (like "Grievance Merchants'" jabs at toxic white guys).

I'll be seeing these guys live in a few weeks -- always one of the best live shows around, and one of the ever-shrinking number of bands I'll regularly see when they're in town -- and the album makes me that much more eager.

Meanwhile, a personal aside: For those similarly shaken by "Thoughts and Prayers," I sit on the Board of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that is working hard to protect our children, and all Americans, from gun violence.  Lots of info about the issue, and what you can do to help, can be found on their website