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Published: 2014/12/02
by Brian Robbins

Drive-By Truckers
English Oceans Deluxe/Black Ice Verite

ATO Records

The hardest part of writing this review is knowing what category to put it in, as there’s a lot – a hell of a lot – going on here. First, you have the complete English Oceans album that was released earlier this year and reviewed right here.

If you already own English Oceans, that’s okay: you can buy this here Deluxe (deeeee-lux) version for about the price of a single CD and get a second bonus disc plus a super concert DVD that we’ll get to in a moment. Pass your original copy of English Oceans on to someone who doesn’t have it. Turn ‘em on; spread the Trucker love; feel the good karma; and turn up the volume on your deluxe version.

And if you don’t already own English Oceans, this is a no-brainer. If there was some sort of Olympics for rock ‘n roll, the Drive-By Truckers would be America’s best hope to bring home the gold (most likely in something like a 1988 Ford Econoline van). The Truckers could have easily given up 15 years ago, but they didn’t – call ‘em stubborn; call ‘em believers in their music; call ‘em crazier than shithouse rats … they’re still doing what they’re doing and deserve whatever success they’ve achieved and more.

So there. English Oceans all by itself is a great album (click the link above for further ravings) and worth the price of admission here.

What the newly-released Deluxe version also offers is a second CD of live material split between the Truckers’ HeAthens Homecoming gigs back in February of this year at Athens, GA’s Fabulous 40 Watt Club and their Bonnaroo set from this past June. The Bonnaroo tunes (“First Air of Autumn”, “Made Up English Oceans” and the beautiful “Grand Canyon”) are presented in a stripped-down acoustic setting – lacking no power whatsoever for the reduced wattage. We’re eased into the electrified portion of the disc (from the 40 Watt) by Trucker frontman Patterson Hood’s skewering of a twisted political prick, “The Part Of Him” – bearing Celtic and Appalachian flavors as well as wild-assed twang. “Panties in Your Purse” is an early classic from guitarist/vocalist Mike Cooley – a half-drunk 2-step with lyrics too smart for their own good (Cooley trademarks for sure). Also included in the roaring swaggerfest is a mix of old and new tunes: “Dead, Drunk and Naked”, “Feb. 14” and “Shit Shots Count”.

As solid a listen as the bonus live CD is, the makings of this Deluxe collection is the live Black Ice Vérité DVD. Here we have the Truckers playing on home turf at the 40 Watt on 2/12/14 – as a savage ice storm literally froze the Southeast to a standstill around them. (Snow plows? Sand trucks? Who needs ‘em in Georgia, for Chrissakes?) The undaunted Truckers pressed on regardless, with Jason Thrasher (maker of The Go-Go Boots Episodes) directing the cameras, and longtime DBT collaborator and recording wizard David Barbe rolling tape. The setlist was the thirteen songs on the then-unreleased English Oceans album. The performance is dripping with sweat and soul.

And I am telling you this: Black Ice Vérité is one of the best rock ‘n’ roll concert videos you will ever watch. Case closed.

Pick your moments: bassist Matt Patton’s smile – looking like the jr. high basketball star who just got kissed by the prettiest gal on the cheering squad – while he piledrives the beat on his funky old Fender P-bass. Drummer Brad Morgan, who covers more ground with the most basic of drum kits than other players do with half a trailer truckload of gear. Morgan boils every groove down to its marrow and adds just enough spice to make it unique to the tune.

Or there’s Hood’s exuberance, whether he’s deep in the crouch, banging the living dogsnot out of his guitar or braced off at the mic, sweat-soaked shirt stuck to his back, eyes closed, and lost deep in the song. Or Mike Cooley’s coolness – ultra, non-filtered coolness … maybe menthol-flavored, too – whether he’s tossing off one of his Will-Rogers-meets-Charles-Bukowski-and-has-a-beer-with-Johnny-Cash lyrics or letting the notes slink off the neck of his Baxendale.

And then there’s Jay Gonzalez: a key element to the Truckers’ sound since he joined the band as keyboardist in 2008, Gonzalez proved to be an honest-to-Christ secret weapon when he stepped forward to supplement the band’s guitar sound in the wake of John Neff’s departure in late 2012. Who knew? Well, anyone who had listened to Gonzalez solo album Mess Of Happiness would have had a clue about his picking skills, certainly … but nothing could have prepared them for the sort of tasteful guitar squall that he doles out with the Truckers. Here you can see Gonzalez in action, whether he’s humped over the keyboard like Garth Hudson’s younger soul brother or standing shoulder-to-sodden-shoulder with Hood squeezing snarling, syrupy goodness out of his Gibson.

The songs may have been brand-new, but the Truckers play them with their trademark combination of comfort, confidence and recklessness. If I had to describe one moment, however; one scene that sums up the heart of this night of music captured on film, it would have to be the closing number: “Grand Canyon”.

Penned by Hood as a soul-wringing tribute to Craig Lieske – longtime crewmember and friend to all who passed away in January of 2013 – “Grand Canyon” is a near-mystical experience in the studio setting of English Oceans. Here, everything is right out in the open with no place to hide … but the result is no less transcendant.

There are no grins during “Grand Canyon” – each player is obviously digging deep as they pay tribute to their lost friend. They lean on each other, navigating the ache of the song and its setting masterfully … you would be moved even if you didn’t know the story behind the song.

And then comes the clincher – the moment when nothing else matters except the heart. As Morgan takes the song out with a powerful drum passage, Hood leans his hollowbody Baxendale against his amp, letting it howl mournfully … a sound that’s being produced by strings, tubes, and speakers but comes from a place that’s as human as it gets.

The credits roll; we see a photo of Craig Lieske; a shot of Wes Freed’s great cover painting; and then the camera zeroes in on Hood’s guitar and amp … still crying. There’s a shadow of a figure off-camera. And then an unseen hand tosses a single rose to the floor alongside the mourning guitar.

This band has heart.


Brian Robbins rolls the credits over at

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