The Southern rockers churn out 11 intensely political tracks just in time for the presidential election
Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood wrote What It Means, one of American Band’s most powerful songs, while gripped by the senseless murders of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. It’s breezy and introspective but anchored by rage, frustration and poignant lyrics: “I mean, Barack Obama won and you can choose where to eat / but you don’t see too many white kids lyin’ bleeding in the street.”
Though it doesn’t offer answers, it shines a spotlight on the state of race relations in the U.S., the country’s mixed-up priorities and the hopelessness that all inspires. Like most of the album – 11 intense tracks about the bloody and bruised nation – What It Means raises difficult questions about complex issues in a stunning manner.
Like many Truckers’ albums, it’s full of historical context that reveals how little things have changed. Opener Ramon Casiano confronts gun violence through former NRA executive vice-president Harlon Carter’s 1931 murder of a 15-year-old boy Ever South details Hood’s family’s immigration from Ireland to the southern U.S. and his own eventual move west Guns Of Umpqua terrifyingly recreates the Umpqua Community College shooting. Mike Cooley’s word wizardry is dizzying as he observes changing gender roles on Filthy And Fried and slams the religious right on honky-tonk barn-burner Kinky Hypocrite. Hood’s closer, Baggage, written after Robin Williams’s suicide, is a staggering meditation on depression.
American Band’s force comes from its unflinching exploration of what it means to be American in 2016 and its assertion that questioning the status quo is necessary for the country to survive and thrive. Just in time for the presidential election.
Top track: What It Means