In praise of Mike Cooley, the Drive-By Truckers' unheralded songwriting genius
Just got back from a family vacation to Powell River, and man, if you ever get the chance to go kayaking in Desolation Sound's Okeover Inlet, take it. The scenery is stunning and you can get up close and personal with bald eagles, seals, and huge orange (or purple) starfish. And the two-person vessels from Powell River Sea Kayak have plenty of cubbyholes for stashing coldies.
You should also consider taking lots of Drive-By Truckers tunes with you on your next trek to the Sunshine Coast, because I found their honest, southern-tinged roots-rock to be the perfect musical companion for viewing the ruggedly gorgeous sights. I've got a bunch of the Georgia-based band's songs on my i-Phone, but found myself continually drawn to the ones written and sung by the brilliant Mike Cooley, who sometimes gets overlooked in the shadow of the group's more outgoing and prolific frontman, Patterson Hood. Four tunes in particular had me entranced, so I figured I'd pass them on via YouTube versions for anyone who might not be familiar with the genius of "The Stroker Ace".
For starters, check out this video for "Perfect Timing", a whimsical Cooley track off the monumental 2008 DBT album, Brighter than Creation's Dark. It features some sweet acoustic lead-guitar by John Neff, who more often handles pedal-steel. Anyone with an interest in how handcrafted guitars are constructed should enjoy the clip.
Now let's head over to Shake It Records in Cincinnati, where two weeks ago the band performed Cooley's "Carl Perkins' Cadillac" amid the stacks of vinyl. That song about '50s music mogul Sam Phillips and his legendary Sun Records artists is from the 2004 DBT album The Dirty South. I like the part where Cooley sings "Mr. Phillips never said anything behind nobody's back, like 'Dammit Elvis, don't he know, he ain't no Johnny Cash' ".
My alltime favourite Cooley composition is another Brighter Than Creation's Dark track, "A Ghost to Most", a stirring indictment of the Dubya-led war in Iraq. I love it when he slyly compares the ex-President's twisted vision to that of a KKK member: "Talkin' tough is easy when it's other people's evil and you're judging what they do or don't believe/Seems to me you'd have to have a hole in your own to point a finger at somebody else's sheet."
We'll finish off this little homage to super-Cooley with "Birthday Boy", a rousing rocker off the DBT's latest album, The Big To-Do. If this track about a young man being serviced by a well-meaning prostitute doesn't turn your crank, I don't know what will. I call it the best song of the year.
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