Their last record was a double-disc extravaganza concept album about a dude who comes to terms with loving Lynyrd Skynyrd and then joins a band very much like Lynyrd Skynyrd and then dies in a plane crash just like Lynyrd Skynyrd. All the critics loved them, not just in New York but Everywhere, lots of love for southern rock these days, alt.country with the means and willingness to kick ass, etc.
So this next disc is also a concept album, not in some kind of rock opera way but in more of a loose way; all songs are focused around the idea of family. Sometimes they’re about how families hold you back and drag you into their shit — the title track is on some serious Hatfield-McCoy tip — and sometimes it’s about how families can be a source of pride and wisdom, like in “Outfit”, where the father tells his rocker son (maybe songwriter Jason Isbell his own self?) to not lose his accent and to call his sister from the road and to not “tell them you’re bigger than Jesus / Don’t give it away.” Sometimes things are a little more ambiguous, but what it comes down to is that this is just as much an art-piece as their last album, just a little more subtle.
Which is quite appropriate when we’re talking about family. There’s a lot of sympathy for the protagonist in “The Deeper In,” considering that she’s a woman who has had four children with her brother and is now in jail — when someone doesn’t have anything, and suddenly finds someone who understands, then who are we to judge?, I guess. And there’s a lot of sympathy for the alcoholic husband in “Heathens” who is trying to get his wife to help him get the van out of the ditch before the neighbors come, even though his philosophy boils down to “I never hear a single word you say when you tell me not to have any fun / It’s the same old shit I ain’t gonna take off anyone” — because hey, he’s just a good ol’ boy, sweet at heart, salt of the earth, keeping dinner on the table, etc.
And some of these characters need a WHOLE LOT of sympathy, like the dude in “My Sweet Annette,” who leaves the title character at the altar for her bridesmaid; Patterson Hood packs so much self-hatred into the narrator’s voice that it’s hard not to want to reach out and touch this fictional character’s hand and tell him, “Yo, it’s not 1933 anymore, let it go, sounds like the bridesmaid was hotter anyway.” The wife who knows that sooner or later she’s going to have to use the “Loaded Gun in the Closet” on her husband? Well, she gets a whole lot of sympathy from me and songwriter Mr. Mike Cooley — a whole lot indeed.
Overall, though, I admire this record more than I love it. Maybe it’s just that the music all seems to try too hard to sound “authentic Southern rawk” (damned if those repeated “Gimme Three Steps” piano plonkings in “Marry Me” don’t make my teeth hurt after a while); maybe it’s that “Your Daddy Hates Me” doesn’t really earn its six-and-a-half minute length back, even with that batshit-insane guitar solo in the middle; maybe it’s just that I don’t really like the whininess in songs like “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” (you’d think Isbell’s daddy woulda warned Hood about doing whiny I’m-a-rock-guy-poor-me songs).
But there are enough other moments here where you’re sure you’ve died and gone to heaven — the balls-out “Careless,” the cautionary “Sink Hole” (man, I wouldn’t wanna be a banker in the South who repossesses farms, not after hearing this song), the jaunty suicide tale of “Do It Yourself” — that you will make you very happy to be on the DBT’s bandwagon. Jump on, there’s plenty of room. Just bring your gun and never call what you’re wearing your “outfit”, or Jason Isbell’s daddy is gonna kick your ass.