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Go-Go Boots
Format: CD / LP / MP3
Release Date: February 15, 2011
By Rob Browning March 22, 2011

To the crews manning the sinking ship we call the record industry, there is prolific and then there is prolific to a fault. Bring too much product to the label and demand its release and it stands a pretty good chance of going down when economic icebergs appear in its path. Athens, Georgia, rock purveyors Drive-By Truckers have made a career of treading that fine line. Touring relentlessly and maintaining a hydra-esque network of side and solo projects, the band has gained a reputation as an act whose rocking is only surpassed by its work ethic. After a prolonged stint on New West, recent years have found DBT aligned with the Dave Matthews curated ATO Records. As terrifying as the unholy union is, artist-run labels like ATO tend to subvert the conventional paradigm, and as such, Go-Go Boots is the second DBT record to be released through ATO in less than a year. Unlike, say, Bright Eyes, who shouldn’t be releasing records at all, or Ryan Adams, a truly gifted songwriter who can’t wrap his head around not releasing every song that comes out of his head, DBT have not diluted the waters with their eleventh full-length.

Thirteen years on from the raucous countrified skronk of their debut, DBT have embraced the artistic sensibilities of recent tour mates Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Their ranks have swelled accordingly with ex-Javelina keysman Jay Gonzalez and former Star Room Boy John Neff joining the DBT fold full-time. The two expand DBT’s sound as exponentially as the additions of bassist Shonna Tucker and former third guitarist Jason Isbell did in the early part of last decade. Founding songwriter-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley remain the DBT cornerstones abetted by long-time drummer Brad Morgan. The sextet bring 14 new songs to the table with Go-Go Boots, all a tad darker than their previous The Big To-Do, itself hardly a Colbie Caillat record.

Hood weighs in with the largest number of contributions on Go-Go Boots, a total of eight if I’m counting correctly, and they are among his strongest. “I Do Believe” and the title track encapsulate his Eddie Hinton meets Flannery O’Connor aesthetic nicely. Hinton has been an influence on Hood since he was a child and the specter of the troubled Alabama soul great looms large over Go-Go Boots. Two Hinton tracks appear on the record, sweeping in with interstitial bluster and leaving a heady trail in their wake. Both were initially released as part of a commemorative Hinton 7” series curated by Cincinatti indie imprint Shake It Records. One is “Where’s Eddie,” previously a hit for Lulu in 1969, here sung by bassist Shonna Tucker. The second is Hood’s take on the Hinton classic “Everybody Needs Love”, another peak proving a strong selling point for Go-Go Boots. Later, Hood takes the ball and runs with it, channeling Hinton’s spirit nicely on his own “Buckets Of Mercy.”

Go-Go Boots features Hood’s usual vignettes – authority figures like policemen and preachers pursuing the seamier side of life despite their vocations –  in tandem with Cooley’s everyman Merle Haggard–esque tracks and a smattering of Tucker’s female soul. Characters abound in the DBT world, whether they’re the failed high-school football star of Hood’s “Used To Be A Cop,” Tucker’s “Dancing Ricky,” or the small town girl who is the lead in Cooley’s “Pulaski.” Regardless of their morality, each of the characters displays a pronounced sense of right and wrong. Character studies may well be necessary to maintain DBT’s songwriting volume, but when tracks lean towards the personal, like on “Assholes” or “The Weakest Man,” all parties remain compelling.

Long-time audio advisor Dave Barbe maintains his usual spot behind the boards for Go-Go Boots, capturing DBT’s sound as deftly as the songwriting triple threat captures the duality of Southern living. It is a daunting task, but one that seems imprinted on the DBT DNA. With every passing year and every record DBT releases, the band gets closer to releasing the best distillation of what makes them one of the best bands in America. Go-Go Boots takes broad strides towards that end, building on The Big To-Do’s momentum in order to capture the happy ending Drive By Truckers seek.

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