Far more than on any of the Drive-By Truckers’ previous albums, Go-Go Boots rises like smoke from the old Muscle Shoals coun
try-and-soul sound. Having recorded with Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones, and having spent a lifetime listening to classic soul albums by Bobby Womack, Tony Joe White, and especially Eddie Hinton, it was inevitable that the Truckers eventually produce this album.
We knew they were pin-your-ears-back rock and roll. But here in Go-Go Boots, the Truckers are country, and here, too, the Truckers are soul and rhythm and blues. It looks funny, on paper – the words country/soul mashed up like that – but maybe in the end it comes down to this one shared ethos: the harder life gets, the more clamantly it calls for art, for music, for beauty – for the slow celebration of loss or pain that is mournfully, beautifully defiant.
It seems a paradox that while the Drive-By Truckers’ sound is so unique; it is still part of a greater and larger family. Some of the other greats – particularly in the South – were spawned from their culture, while others came from the deeper rootstock of the southern landscape itself. Of course in the long run the landscape has a significant say in what kind of culture develops; it’s all tangled together, all connected, and everything shares bits and strands of those fragments, again like a pastiche of random and beautiful genomes. Each of the three vocalists – Cooley, Patterson, Shonna – is distinct; each aches in its own way with sometimes gravelly and other times smooth sweet wistful broken-glass hurt and yearning and reluctant. Patterson’s songs, of course are almost always willing, in the great Southern tradition, to take on the Man – or anyone else – as are Cooley’s, when the cause is big and just.
Their sound – so distinctly theirs – comes nonetheless from history and the past. It’s all a big tangled beautiful mess, and it all comes out of Muscle Shoals, where, as Patterson’s father, legendary bassist David Hood, astutely notes, the South once did something right with respect to race relations, once-upon-a-time, and when it most mattered.
In their documentary, The Secret to a Happy Ending, Patterson speaks of the South’s “duality thing.” Visually, the documentary shows a symbolism of this duality nicely: the fecund green clamor of summer (play it loud), insects shrilling high in the canopy as if giving voice to a fever in the land that may or may not be a madness; and in winter, the bare raw limbs, the signature of a thing – things – going away. Similarly, the Truckers, while walking on the dark side of the street in their songs, seem, despite it all, unable to avoid stumbling into cathedrals and columns of light, as in Mercy Buckets.