"Southern Rock Opera," the Drive-By Truckers' two-disc masterwork about Lynyrd Skynyrd and growing up in the Seventies, put the band on the map and in the process, drove up demand for the band's out-of-print first independent records.
"Gangstabilly," recorded in 48 hours, is rough and raw, but gives a great preview of the band's later greatness. Lead member Patterson Hood wrote and sings lead on nearly all of the 11 songs here, and both his cynical, incisive lyrics of small-town life and his ragged, screaming vocals are on fine display. "Sandwiches for the Road" features a sweet, lilting steel guitar and a reassuring message: "If they turn green don't be afraid. Nothing can hurt you but yourself." "18 Wheels of Love," centered around the refrain, "Mama ran off with a trucker," is dedicated to Hood's mom. "They got married in Dollywood by a Porter Wagoner lookalike." A few songs, like "The Tough Sell" and "Why Henry Drinks," have a harder edge and hint at a more rocking sound ahead. It's not a perfect album, but it's a highly enjoyable debut.
"Gangstabilly," with a little more polish and fewer histrionics from Hood, is great.