The Big To-Do
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With The Big To-Do, I have re-discovered the greatness that I initially found in the Drive-By Truckers. Like the early albums that first caught my ear, this new record finds the guitars bigger than ever, Patterson Hood exhibiting his unique story-telling craft to the utmost extent, and Mike Cooley channeling the Stroker Ace in full effect. What I love most about this record is the fact that it rocks and does so fluidly, with every song placed in just the right spot for maximum complement to the entire piece. This album reminds me of their sound on The Dirty South with every song exploring some darker, more depressing subject matter of the South along with some great stories that could only be told by those who have grown up in this region, hearing the yarns and legends spun by family members, friends, and neighbors.
Opening with "Daddy Learned To Fly" is the perfect way to kick things off with The Big To-Do. This song is big and loud, with an almost celebratory feel, despite it's subject matter of children dealing with their father's death. Both in structure and style, this particular song reminds me a lot of "February 14th" from A Blessing and a Curse in just how massive and positive the chord progressions are, giving listeners a reason to raise their glass and sing along. Another standout as far as Patterson Hood songs go is "Drag the Lake Charlie" with it's scratchy guitar melodies and a chorus that you'll catch yourself humming as you vividly imagine what is going on with this sea of deception, secrets, and an implied murder cover up that only a small Southern town could boast. Mike Cooley, though his songs are a bit more few and far between on this record, chimes in with the wisdom that we have all come to expect from this rough-around-the-edges poet of tough luck and subtle, dry humor. With "Birthday Boy", Cooley brings forth an almost Dire Straights vibe with this one, if Knopfler was a skinny Southern boy from Alabama, telling of money, married men, and unhappy strippers. "Get Downtown" is a true boot-stomper that gives a bit more oomph to the boogie-woogie style of the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and is thus the most toe-tapping track on the record. As with Brighter Than Creations Dark, The Big To-Do finds Shonna Tucker contributing a few herself, breaking the dirty Southern chain of Hood and Cooley, with "You Got Another" being the standout of the two. This song is a the first somber track of the record, with a higher vocal range than we have heard from Shonna in the past and a swirling Hammond B-3 and Mellotron canvas provided by the Truckers' newest member, Jay Gonzalez. The Big To-Do ends with two slower numbers, including one of Patterson Hood's finest moments that brings back the chills that earlier songs like "The Deeper In" and "Tornadoes" evoked. "The Flying Walendas" is a an absolutely beautiful track that tells the story of a family of acrobats and trapeze artists that were the stars of many of the famous circuit circuses, whose lives were tragically taken when feats went wrong under the big top. This song has a slow, lazy waltz feel and finds the mighty John Neff behind his trusty pedal steel with some of his finest lead lines that almost weep for the subjects at hand.
It is a given that many of us will always be fans of anything and everything that the Drive-By Truckers will ever give us, however there is something about The Big To-Do that could quite possibly be their finest work thus far. Every piece of the puzzle is here on this one and there are absolutely no throw-away tracks in my opinion; each one falling perfectly into place and at just the right time in the grand scheme of things. One of 2010's best already, this one is going to be damn near hard to beat this year. -Andrew Bryant