Full Details of the BIBJ Millennial Playlist Hullabaloo are available here. Today's entry is #98: The Righteous Path by Drive-By Truckers(2008)
“I like all types of music except country.”
I’ve heard this statement many times from friends/colleagues/people I’ve stalked on Facebook. For the most part, people who say this are completely wrong, but don’t really think about why they’re misguided. People (for the most part) don’t dislike country music; they dislike that which is marketed as country music. This was far less of a problem decades ago when there were fewer genre lines to blur.
Ray fuckin’ Stevens.
Nobody who actually likes music dislikes these artists. But within the last 20 years, the most compelling country music has largely been rejected by Nashville, spawning the sub-genre “alt-country,” which when you actually think about it, would be more accurate were it simply renamed "more-often-than-not, good country." Listen to Uncle Tupelo or Whiskeytown (and even their respective progressions into early Wilco and solo Ryan Adams) and the music shares the best aspects of country music roots to a far greater degree than Kenny Chesney or Taylor Swift, does it not?
Ultimately, the declining quality of country music radio is not much different from the similar decline of pop or R&B radio. As the song-writing gets shittier, it becomes easier for the public to digest. This is not good or bad. It just simply is. And yet, because it is, it seems more surprising to hear a country band who actually says things worth saying.
My first exposure to Drive-By Truckers was a year ago, when they co-headlined a tour with The Hold Steady, and immediately felt embarrassed for not getting into them earlier in their career. (NOTE: The other take-away from that show was how odd it felt seeing two bands actually having so much fun on stage.) The unabashed influence of Skynyrd has allowed many to classify the Truckers as “southern rock,” but this is a country band. They're just not a band that fits what country has become.
The band's most recent album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, is probably the most complete of their career. "That Man I Shot" is a lyrical masterpiece about war that sympathizes equally with the soldier who has been shot, and the one who shot him, taking into account that the "kill or be killed" nature of battle doesn't make the playback any easier to view repeatedly in one's minds eye. Clearly this wouldn't quite fit in preceding the new smash hit of Toby Keith date raping the U.S. Flag while stickin' it to the brown folks.
Yet “The Righteous Path” seems like a tailor-made smash hit. The lyrics are straight forward and brilliant in their simplicity: a blue-collar, God-fearing man living a daily struggle and hanging on alongside his friends and neighbors. But the words don’t patronize their subjects, or condescend to the listener. There’s no Fox News-style “real America” pomp, which in turn doesn't allow for Daily Koz-esque simplifying of Red State mentalities. Like their former tourmates The Hold Steady, the characters the Truckers write for seem overwhelmingly authentic. And that authenticity is likely what keeps them from coming up in the rotation after the latest Rascal Flatts single.
Drive-By Truckers - The Righteous Path (mp3)