Drive-By Truckers

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      Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (New West)

      When long-time member (and major songwriting force) Jason Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers last year, some fans worried that the southern rock–influenced alt-country act might falter a step or two. No freakin’ way: it just recruited another wicked guitarist, pedal-steel specialist John Neff; got legendary Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham to sit in on piano, Wurlitzer, and Hammond B-3; and recorded a 79-minute masterwork of wailing guitars and Dixie accents. If you haven’t experienced the gritty, down-home charm of DBT yet, now’s the time, because every one of the 19 tracks on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is a keeper.

      Cofounding guitarist-vocalists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley share the majority of the songwriting credits, and as usual they concoct a noise that sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd throwing an all-night party for Neil Young, with members of the Black Crowes and the Georgia Satellites dropping by. Neff’s sweetly soaring pedal-steel work has appeared on previous DBT recordings, but now that he’s a full-fledged member it’s much more prevalent.

      Isbell’s ex-wife, bassist Shonna Tucker, comes into her own as a composer, penning three songs and singing lead on all of them. Her material tends toward the personal and introspective, as on the yearning “The Purgatory Line”. Elsewhere, Cooley attacks the blunders of George W. Bush on the Crazy Horse–approved “A Ghost to Most”, and Hood takes on the repercussions of Dubya’s blood lust with the harmonica- and military drum–laced “The Home Front” and the tortured-guitar opus “That Man I Shot”.

      This monumental CD goes straight to number one on my top 10 of 2008, and I don’t expect it to be dislodged any time soon.