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.)

Drive-By Truckers: Showcasing some breakneck-paced drunkabilly numbers on a new live set.
Drive-By Truckers: Showcasing some breakneck-paced drunkabilly numbers on a new live set.

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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