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Drive-By Truckers

English Oceans – 2014 (ATO)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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It would be easy perhaps even tempting - to label Alabama's Drive By Truckers as simply a rowdy and rambunctious country rock outfit that goes all out to make their insurgent sound heard. Not surprisingly, it was their landmark opus, "Southern Rock Opera," an album detailing the exploits of a fictional '70s Dixie-bred outfit called "Betamax Guillotine," that helped solidify both their sound and reputation. They've more or less continued to reinforce that stoic sensibility ever since, courtesy of the various concept albums that followed, "The Dirty South" and "Decoration Day" in particular.

Still, with singular talents like Jason Isbell, Patterson Hood and Spooner Oldham drifting in and out of their ranks, it's readily apparent that the group possesses the brains to match its bravado. Both these attributes are in evidence here, thanks to a sound that recalls the swagger and the sneer the Rolling Stones brought to bear on "Exile On Main Street."

Yet even when they're caught up by the raucous stomp of The Part of Him, grooving through the assertive mid-tempo romp Til He's Dead Or Rises, or reveling in the brash, bombastic delirium of the audacious opener, Shit Shots Count, the group's rustic roots manage to remain intact. On the other hand, opting to change the pace and settle into a down-home ramble like Made Up English Oceans, the acoustic intimacy of Hanging On or the heavy honkytonk that drives Natural Light, their edge is always evident. Theirs is a sound that's ragged and relentless, but always served up skillfully.

Two decades on, "English Oceans" provides Drive By Truckers with yet another milestone in a career that's already littered with ongoing achievements. They deserve further kudos for this outstanding album, as well as for a rebel yell that remains as vibrant as ever.