A few years ago I was working for a small sales and marketing company that worked exclusively with record labels. One of the labels we had the pleasure of working with was New West Records. I hadn't been aware of the label before we started working with them, but the albums we were working were all pretty good or if the music wasn't necessarily my cup of tea, then at least it was a well respected artist.
One day a record came across my desk by a band called the Drive-By Truckers. It was called Decoration Day and little did I know that after just a few listens it would become one of my favorite albums of all time. The folks at the label were of course declaring that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread because that is part of the job description of working for a record label....be enthusiastic about your artists. I have to admit that their enthusiasm did seem truly genuine and I was expecting to at least hear something new to my ears. I took the album home one weekend, popped it in my CD player and wound up listening to it 3 or 4 times in one day. I was blown away. It was like Neil Young, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Lucero had all gotten together and created a genius rock album. Then I really started paying attention to the lyrics and my love for the album increased ten fold. These guys weren't just singing songs, they were telling a story and painting a picture. And these were not happy stories at all, but more about the darker side of the human experience. Death, self-destruction, betrayal, lust....any sin you can think of is probably covered here. That being said, you never get a sense of hopelessness in the lyrics as a lot of it feels more like cautionary tales. The band's Southern roots are also a huge part of the lyrical experience. Another aspect of the album that really kept me entertained is the fact that they have three vocalists/songwriters contributing songs here. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are the mainstays in DBT and this album saw the introduction of a younger fellow named Jason Isbell who sounds wise beyond his years (both in his voice and in his lyrics). Each singer has a unique voice and unique lyrical style, so the album has enough diversity to keep you on your toes while retaining a somewhat unified theme. Personal favorite tracks include "My Sweet Annette", "Hell No, I Ain't Happy", "Decoration Day", "Outfit" and "Heathens", but there are no throw aways on this album.
The next album DBT released was entitled The Dirty South. I was really excited to hear this album, but had tremendous doubts that it would be able to stand tall with the skyscraper that was Decoration Day. Well, this is one of those times when I love being proved wrong. The album more than measured up to it's predecessor and is pretty much in a tie for first place as the band's best album. The same formulas and themes that were present on Decoration Day are continued here, but Isbell feels like a more cemented presence in the band thus making the performances all the better. Favorite tracks on this one include "Where The Devil Don't Stay", "Danko/Manuel", "Puttin' People On The Moon", "Carl Perkins Cadillac" and "Goddamn Lonely Love", but again, there are absolutely no throw aways here.
Decoration Day and The Dirty South are only two of DBT's seven studio albums. All of their releases are fantastic, but anyone curious about the band should start with these two. Jason Isbell would leave the band after his third album with DBT and has two fantastic solo albums out (Sirens Of The Ditch and Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit) that are worth exploring. Patterson Hood also has two solo albums (Killers And Stars and Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)) that are worth investigating once you are more familiar with the DBT catalog. Here is a list of the band's other albums in the order I think you should check them out:
Decoration Day / The Dirty South
Southern Rock Opera (A double disc album about Lynyrd Skynyrd...AMAZING stuff)
A Blessing And A Curse (Jason Isbell's third and final(?) album with DBT)
Brighter Than Creation's Dark (The first album after Isbell's departure and the debut of Isbell's ex-wife Shonna Tucker as the third vocalist - she had been playing bass with the band since The Dirty South)
They also have a live CD/DVD available and a rarities and outtakes album coming out soon.
"Never Gonna Change" from The Dirty South:
"Where The Devil Don't Stay" from The Dirty South:
"My Sweet Annette from" Decoration Day: