FLAGEL: Drive-By Truckers’ newest album keeps rock and roll alive

Rock and roll is alive and well with the latest album from Drive-By Truckers “The Unraveling.” While they’ve never been shy about their thoughts on national events, their 12th studio album is their deepest dive into politics thus far. With track titles including “Thoughts and Prayers” and “Babies in Cages,” it’s clear the band has much on its mind and has little interest in masking their views with the narrative lyricism that has often been their tool in the past. “The Unraveling” is not all political, though, with a love song to the therapy of music on the road in “Slow Ride Argument” and the encounters with darkness of “Heroin Again.”

Drive-By Truckers have been breathing life into the Southern rock genre for nearly a quarter century. The two lead vocalists and songwriters, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, are also the remaining founding members, forming the band in 1996 and molding it over the years into its current incarnation. They’ve blended storytelling and examinations of the American character, both the beauty and the ugly, piling on guitars and sounds of their roots from Georgia and Alabama. Their work has long been a study of what it is to be the U.S., told through the lenses of historical figures, fictional musicians and most often, the everyday person struggling to survive, the forgotten toilers living closest to the worms under the rocks.

The commentary of “The Unraveling” is the natural evolution of that American story in times both divisive and frightening. Cooley is particularly forceful in his condemnation of those irresponsible with their influence, highlighting the consequences of inciting hateful views: “it’s all the fault of it, or them, or they, give a boy a target for his grievance, and he might get it in his head they need to pay.” Hood expresses the difficulty of facing his children as they watch a nation where “Babies in Cages” have become normal enough to be just another news story.

In the end, the album leaves the listener as unsettled as the times, with no clear call to arms or prescription for action. Patterson and Cooley face the same challenge as us, acknowledging the need for change, but never quite sure how to bridge our nation’s gaps. What we’re left with after “The Unraveling” is an attempt to balance looking the darkness in the face while acknowledging the beauty that remains. In the closing track, “Awaiting Resurrection,” Hood speaks of “seeking some salvation to the limits of my talents,” of facing simultaneously Armageddon “and the beauty this life can keep injecting.”

The album is available now on CD, vinyl, digital download and on your favorite streaming service. The band is currently touring and will be in our region of the country, playing Chicago and Indianapolis, in the middle of March.

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