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Drive-By Truckers are perhaps the greatest extant American rock and roll band. Make the competition a little stiffer by expanding the criteria to bands no longer active — the Velvet Underground, Big Star, Sonic Youth — and they still make the top ten.

The band is as misunderstood as it is loved: Drive-By Truckers is not and has never been what is pejoratively known as a “southern rock” band, unless one considers every rock group from south of the Mason-Dixon line in such terms (hello, R.E.M.). The use of “southern rock”to describe Drive-By Truckers, then, is lazy shorthand the way “all girl band” is: it boils a group’s essence down to dull and non-descriptive qualities that have little, if anything, to do with music. Besides, three-guitar-attack notwithstanding, any connotations of good ol’ boys and rebel flags can be swiftly silenced by auditioning any of the nine Drive-By Truckers LPs (not including at least three live albums, a B-sides collection, and several singles), which all contain some of the sharpest and most exhilarating Modernist-Primitive rock music produced since a certain Canadian first pointed his beloved hearse at the Pacific Ocean.

Led by songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, Drive-By Truckers’ sound is a behemoth of unique and spellbinding power, undiminished by frequent personnel changes (Hood and Cooley are the only remaining members from the original lineup) and periods of transition. As a group they embody the rare combination of chemistry and alchemy that distinguishes great bands from merely good ones. A hefty and under-discussed rhythm section (led by longtime drummer Brad “EZ-B” Morgan) ably underlines each power chord, each stoned twinkle of a Fender Rhodes, every ragged, heart-worn harmony.

But where Drive-By Truckers truly diverges from the many milksop ’classic rock with punk roots’ combos is in the songwriting of Hood and Cooley. Like Woody Allen’s re-telling of the same story through the respective lenses of comedy and tragedy in Melinda & Melinda, Drive-By Truckers songs provide the facts but impishly scramble the contexts, pitching moral hypotheticals and questioning notions of objectivity. Ambiguities dangle; hypocrisies are scrutinized; heroes and villains trade places. Often, Drive-By Truckers songs eulogize as they condemn, and vice versa. No entity is spared the band’s panoptic view of good and evil: everyone from judges and preachers to marginalized no-counts get their say. And while it is customary for rock and rollers to side with outlaw archetypes, Hood and Cooley are less likely to valorize Jesse James or Pretty Boy Floyd than to uncover the skeletons in the closet of their respective accusers. “Rubin ’Hurricane’ Carter is innocent,” they might have sung, “and, by the way, get a load of what we found in Miss Patty Valentine’s trash.”

Drive-By Truckers fans represent a wide spectrum: young and old; men and women; hipsters and frat boys; professors and rednecks; novelists and stock car racers. Such universal affection for any rock and roll band is as rare in 2013 as it is unlikely; for a rock and roll band this smart and this uncompromising, it is miraculous. Taking this into account, I don’t believe it is too optimistic to view the band’s success as indicative of rock music’s continued power as an ecumenical and equalizing force. Submitted for your approval, Drive-By Trucker’s albums from worst to best.

Comments (39)
  1. Great to see some DBT coverage on Stereogum – I can’t say I agree with the rankings (I have Dirty South a lot higher, and BTCD a lot lower), but really, you could throw a dart at this list blindfolded and still hit a great album. “Greatest extant American rock and roll band” indeed.

    (Also, just to nitpick, Isbell’s goddamn love is lonely, not dirty)

    • I noticed that – thanks! Don’t know how I missed that, or even made that mistake. Anyway, fixing it!

    • Micah. I agree that Bonnie`s article is neat… last week I bought themselves a Saab 99 Turbo since I been earnin $8463 this last five weeks and would you believe, ten thousand last-munth. it’s actualy my favourite-job I’ve had. I began this 10-months ago and straight away startad bringin in at least $82, p/h. I follow the details here,, w­w­w.J­a­m­1­o.c­o­m

  2. Uhm, so I consider myself a Drive-By Truckers fan, and A Blessing and A Curse is my favorite album of theirs. Granted, it has a lot to do with the fact that it’s the first one I got, after seeing an amazing show in support of it, and I recognize that I’m an outlier, but don’t you think it’s something of a bold statement to assume one album couldn’t possibly be any fan’s favorite? Particularly an album with songs like “Gravity’s Gone,” “Easy on Yourself,” and “Daylight.” Particularly with a band as consistently great as DBT.

    • I stand by what I wrote about ABAAC (personally, I think both Easy On Yourself and Daylight are duds relative to what Isbell is capable of, and completely out of place next to the Hood and Cooley songs), but I also think that there is something to the phenomenon of your favorite DBT album being the one you hear first, so your feelings about ABAAC make perfect sense in that context. I saw them on that tour, too, and they were indeed terrific. Truth by told, I listen to ABAAC quite a bit, but I also skip quite a few songs when i do.

      • On an unrelated note, something about the combo of Bruce Springsteen and Drive-By Truckers makes me really want to see a Lucinda Williams ediiton of this feature soon.

  3. Not that I needed the validation, but I thought I was alone in thinking Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is one of their top couple albums. Three Dimes Down and The Righteous Path have a tendency to make their way onto a shockingly high percentage of my playlists. Great album, through and through.

  4. I’m not much of a Drive-By Truckers fan, but I loved Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. It has to be one of the most underrated albums I know. So yeah, that album will “win over prospective converts,” as you say — or at least it won over me.

    • I remember being really disappointed with that album when it first came out, partly due to the loss of Jason Isbell (who wrote several of my favourite DBT songs). I like it much better now (it’s nothing if not a grower), but I’d still have it much lower in my personal rankings, more like #6 or #7.

  5. I used to sing “The Deeper In” from Decoration Day to my infant son as a lullaby ten to twenty times a day. It worked so well, especially because the incest is not glaringly obvious to any passer-bys. Agreed on Decoration Day being number one, it was my first, and from the first line I was hooked. I’d have Dirty South closer to number one, and Go-Go Boots further

  6. Can I just put in that I don’t like the new format? Reading giant blocks of un-paragraphed text is difficult for my poor aging eyes.

    Otherwise, good list – although, I will say, two lists in a row of such archetypical American bands has me hoping the next one is Can or Boris or Rammstein.

  7. The great thing about The Truckers is that we heAthens (passionate fans), never agree on the best and the worst. And when it comes to live, all bets are off. used to hate the song ‘Buttholeville’ until this past tour, and it became one of my favorite songs of the night. For my uninitiated friends, I always go with “Blessing and a Curse’. But I am a HUGE Jason Isbell fan, so Decoration Day is a close second. And I never really liked ‘The Big To-Do’. But The Truckers are one of the best American bands ever. They are the American Rolling Stones.

  8. So glad to see this list. I’ve been a fan for a long time and got to see them support Decoration Day in Boston back in the day. There were a lot of dusty dudes there shouting at them to play ‘Nine Bullets’ which I heard as ‘Night Bullets’ –

    Decoration Day is almost too good, and the lines ‘i’ve got dead brothers in east tennessee/ and i’ve got dead brothers in lauderdale south/ my daddy got shot right in front of his house/ he had no one to fall on but me…. gets me every time.

  9. Great write up. My top 4 are Decoration Day, BTCD, Pizza, and Dirty South. Not to nitpick, but Isbell had four songs on Dirty South. You forgot “John Henry”. Also, Rob Malone sang “Cassie’s Brother” on SRO but Patterson wrote it.

  10. This is why I love reading stereogum. I don’t agree with the author’s rankings, but I so enjoyed reading every word. Personally I’d put Dirty South at number one, its the album I keep going back to.

    But as much as I love the band I’ve never understood why everyone thinks SRO is so great. Sure I get the story behind it and all that, but I never play it when I’m alone. It is the last album I’d play if I wanted to show someone what DBT is all about.

    But Decoration Day, yeah I guess if you had to go with one album, that would be the one. Again, nice read and thank you.

    • I don’t listen to Southern Rock Opera nearly as much as I used to but just look at how many songs from that record have formed the cornerstone of their live show such as “Ronnie and Neil”, “Zip City”, “Let There Be Rock”, “Shut Up and Get On the Plane” and “Angels and Fuselage”. For a very long time “The Southern Thing” was also a huge staple.

  11. Pleased to see BTCD near the top. I wasn’t keen on it as much when it was released, but in the past year I’ve listened to it multiple times and it gets better with each go-through.

    I think THE BIG TO-DO is a bit undervalued, and I definitely view it and GO-GO BOOTS as two halves of a double album. Each one needs a little of what the other one has got – TBTD needs more storytelling, GGB needs more hooks. Mash the two together and you’ve got a complete package.

  12. The Dirty South is my personal favorite. Could never imagine ranking Decoration Day in the top 5, let alone as number 1.

  13. The Dirty South is a near perfect album in my book. Tornadoes, Carl Perkins’ Cadillac, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Daddy’s Cup…All massive songs. I’ve thought every Truckers album afterwards couldn’t hold a candle to the quality of The Dirty South.

  14. The obsession with ranking everything and placing it in lists is just retarded. The Truckers have never made a bad album. Can’t we just be thankful that we have them. Every album has songs that will stand the test of time, some have more and some have less, but at the end of the day each album has songs that cannot be ignored or discounted. Sit down and make your own best of collection, and you’ll see.

  15. THE DIRTY SOUTH is by far the DBT best album, quickly followed by DECORATION DAY. I’d rank A BLESSING AND A CURSE much higher and put BRIGHTER THAN CREATION’S DARK a bit lower – it would be better if it had less songs on it!

  16. I loved DBT best when Isbell was in the mix and don’t think they have been the same without him. Thankfully he continues to put out quality work, including the excellent new record ‘Southeastern’. That being said, DBT are still an amazing band and I am glad to see their music being discussed here. I also agree with what many other readers have said; ‘The Dirty South’ is their finest moment (so far).

    • You wrote my post, sneakypete63! I will add that for me, the departure of John Neff has also degraded the sound of the band. DBT used to be my favorite band, and I have to say they’ve been replaced by Jason, who is only getting better and better.

  17. Good article! Don’t agree with all of the rankings, but Decoration Day is my #1 album too.

  18. Another Dirty South lover here. Easily my #1 DBT album and one of my favorite albums period. Going to my first DBT show in Novemeber and hoping they still work some Dirty South tracks into the set list.

  19. Great article indeed. I cannot nail a favorite album myself….mainly because there4 is just so much to love and to see them live is their true element…..one of the last great rock shows left on the planet.

  20. Great article indeed. I cannot nail a favorite album myself….mainly because there is just so much to love and to see them live is their true element…..one of the last great rock shows left on the planet.

  21. 1. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (among the top albums of all time)
    2. The Dirty South
    3. Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance (Patterson Hood)
    4. Southern Rock Opera
    5. Decoration Day
    6. Goo Goo Boots
    7. The Big to Do
    8. A Blessing and a Curse

  22. Greatest existing American Rock and Roll band? Top 10 All-Time American Rock and Roll band??? Really?

    Also, “some of the sharpest and most exhilarating Modernist-Primitive rock music produced since a certain Canadian first pointed his beloved hearse at the Pacific Ocean.” What does that refer to? Neil Young’s “On the Beach” album cover? I feel stupid for not knowing.

    • 1. I stand by the Truckers as a top tier American rock and roll band. I would add the aforementioned Velvets, Sonic Youth and Big Star (no-brainer choices, all), and also include the Dead, Royal Trux, the Replacements, the E Street Band, Fugazi, and a few others, but this is clearly a debate for a future Stereogum piece. :)

      2. This refers to Neil, yes, who left Canada to go find Stephen Stills in California and start a band. Legend has it they happened upon each other, by chance, in a traffic jam. Whether that story is apocryphal or not, I don’t even care. Neil drove a hearse (a 1948 Buick Roadmaster, to be exact); “Long May You Run” is about that very car. Sorry this wasn’t clear.

  23. Can’t disagree w/ Decoration Day at one but Dirty South rides it’s nuts tight at #2…. Then BTCD and Pizza Deliverance before Southern Rock Opera rounds out the top 5.

  24. I enjoyed this article because it reminded me that as much as I love the later stuff, Pizza Deliverance is still the best album Patterson and Mike have ever pulled out of their asses.

  25. I keep trying to get into this band but I just can’t. I like Replacements, GBV, SY, The Band, Dylan, all the shit I’m sposedta as a prereq for liking this band. I just find the DBTs boring as hell. The lyrics are like bad Faulkner and the music is like bad Crazy Horse. I keep scratchin my head cause I just don’t get it.

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