10. Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera
What do musicals and Southern rock have in common? Normally, a complete lack of subtlety. On the surface Southern Rock Opera fits the stereotype: three guitars, long passages of ranting narration, copious vocal twang, all entwined to retell the story of Lynrd Skyrnd. But beneath the cliches, Drive-By Truckers composed a nuanced musical narrative that is as much about postmodernism as it is about Ronnie Van Zandt.
At its heart, Southern Rock Opera explores the "duality of the 'Southern thing.'" Its story leaps in time and place, with songs sung from the perspectives of outcast Alabama teenagers in "The Three Great Southern Icons" to Satan himself in the next song, "Wallace." The results sound like the Allman Brothers, but tug at heartstrings like R.E.M. In fact the record strays so far from the mold of the '70s bands it so openly idolizes that it can be too subdued -- excepting "The Southern Thing," there is a lack of big, powerful guitar licks.
Southern Rock Opera borrows the appeal of Bye-Bye Birdie: It presents a sellable musical icon and image, as well as bombast in a familiar and realistic setting. It's easy to imagine Southern Rock Opera coming onstage with a talented ensemble cast in a wide age-range with a set composed of projector screens displaying real pictures of 1970s Alabama, the Swampers, and Lynrd Skynrd. Southern Rock Opera at its core is a celebration of the best aspect of the American South. Namely a willingness to rebel against conformity on one's own terms -- also the best aspect of modern theater.