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Drive-By Truckers

Posted in MusicWorld on September 11, 2002 by

Athens, Georgia's Drive-By Truckers are currently stirring up considerable attention with their audacious concept album Southern Rock Opera. The ambitious two-CD set — originally released in late 2001 on the band's own indie Soul Dump label and recently picked up for wider distribution by Lost Highway — draws on the band members' Alabama roots to address what leader Patterson Hood refers to as "the duality of the Southern thing." The album, penned by Hood and fellow Truckers Mike Cooley and Rob Malone, uses the troubled history of Southern rock icons Lynyrd Skynyd as a jumping-off point for a mythic song cycle that invokes such larger-than-life figures as segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, Crimson Tide football coach Bear Bryant and racist police chief Bull Connor.

Combining raw rock punch with sophisticated storytelling to confront the moral, political and cultural contradictions of the band's home region, Southern Rock Opera follows the fictional band Betamax Guillotine through a mythic career that encompasses inspirational highs and self-destructive lows before ending in tragedy. Considering the album's richly drawn characters and cinematic storytelling, it's not surprising to learn that Hood originally conceived it as a screenplay. The project's origins actually predate the release of the Drive-By Truckers' first three albums, Gangstabilly, Pizza Deliverance and the live Alabama Ass Whuppin', with the concept continuing to simmer through the band's early years.

Southern Rock Opera has won so much attention that the raucous club combo — which recently went to a full-on three-guitar Southern rock lineup — recently toured as opening act for the modern-day incarnation of their idols Lynyrd Skynyrd. "When we were making [the album], we worried that they'd think we were making fun of what they did or making light of their tragedy," Hood says. "But I think when they saw us live, they saw that it's something that we feel very deeply about and worked really hard on, so I think they take it the way it was meant to be."