Drive-By Truckers, "English Oceans" (ATO)
The often-prolific roots rockers Drive-By Truckers took a four-year break from the studio before recording "English Oceans," and the stockpile of songs pays off throughout the band's 12th album.
Stripping away the R&B influences and musical explorations of their last few albums, DBT focuses on guitars and a garage-band stomp on the new album -- which also adds to the collection's consistency.
The band has always shared songwriting chores between singer-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, usually augmented by contributions by other band members (most notably onetime band mate Jason Isbell in the early 2000s). This time out, Cooley is an equal partner, and he and Hood are the only songwriters -- another beneficial change.
The album's opening guitar chords recall an old Replacements riff and would've fit nicely on the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street." It's a strong kick off to the rawest rocking Truckers album since their early days. But it's the storytelling that gives the band a special dimension. The colorful twists of "Till He's Dead or Rises" and "Primer Coat," the desperation of "Hanging On" and the poignant "Grand Canyon" show that this veteran band can still equal the high points of its past.