Drive-By Truckers

Alabama Ass Whuppin' (SecondHeaven.com Records)

Life's little disappointments, parts 68-70: That punk rock turned Lynyrd Skynyrd into the punch line of a thousand bubba jokes; that the Replacements didn't split up after loony guitarist Bob Stinson left; and that Steve Earle forsook dope-shootin' and hell-raisin' for personal sobriety and "serious" art. (Okay, I'm kidding about that last one. Rock 'n' junkies' creative arc inevitably ends in flames. But sometimes -- damn, what an arc while it lasts!)

What does this have to do with Athens, Georgia, renegades the Drive-By Truckers? Plenty. After relocating from Alabama, head Trucker Patterson Hood set out to form a band that could make the least-jangly, most non-kudzuesque sound around while still hewing to the hunker- and party-down local aesthetic. Two long-players and loads of touring later, Hood & Co. find themselves the toast of roots-rockers and barflies across the region, and this live album is firm proof that you don't have to prove your Southern grit by burning crosses -- the charred, smoking stages left in your wake will do just fine.

Thrill to the crowd-pleasin' manifesto "Buttholeville," which is a dead ringer for some of Earle's more fuck-you-and-your-mama moments (Hood's drawling vocals in particular), and churning with '70s-styled twin-guitar riffs and Big Rawk stuttering dynamics, not to mention lyrics that pretty much sum up the reasons boys who grow up south of the Mason-Dixon line -- yours truly included -- hanker to get out ("Tired of living in Buttholeville/Tired of my job and my wife Lucille/Tired of my kids Ronnie and Neil/Tired of my '68 Bonneville/Working down at Billy Bob's Bar and Grille/The food here tastes like the way I feel"). Pogo to "Don't Be in Love With Me," a breakneck-paced drunkabilly number whose wry lyrical touches of edgy introspection bordering on self-loathing ("I'm glad you're doing well, but do it someplace else") have a distinctively Paul Westerberg vibe. Or simply groove to what's become the band's forte, blues-based hard rock anthems clearly from the Truckers' traditionalist streak: The evil-sounding "Lookout Mountain" is pure Skynyrd, while rave-up "Steve McQueen" is appended by a magnificent, telling coda -- Skynyrd's "Gimme Three Steps." (Talk about regional pride and reverence: Right as the latter's final chords crash down, Hood starts speed rapping some familiar words as the band whip-segues directly into Jim Carroll's "People Who Died." Somewhere, Ronnie Van Zant is grinning.)

As far as live albums go, this one ranks high on both the immediacy and the pass-that-bottle scales. And what, you non-crackers may ask, is an "Alabama ass whuppin'"? As the band's bio indelicately points out, "it's basically when someone stomps a mudhole in you, walks it dry and, in the process, loudly tells you how bad he or she is whuppin' you." Amen to that.

 
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