Athens, Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers have produced remarkably consistent high quality music during the last ten years and Go-Go Boots finds them continuing to maintain that quality while also evolving. The band’s mix of hard rock, classic country, punk sneer and indie attitude have led to them being pretty much impossible to categorize, and by adding a definite soul vibe to Go-Go Boots the band are making it even harder for anyone looking for quick answers and easily defined genres, but rewards listeners willing to make the extra effort.
Vocalist and guitarist Patterson Hood has long been the band’s frontman and main songwriter, while also sharing songwriting and singing duties with several bandmates in an unusual arrangement, but on Go-Go Boots Hood is the real star, penning four out of the five strongest tracks on the album, and singing all five. The album’s central focus is Hood’s “The Fireplace Poker” which ranks as one of Hood’s best storytelling songs and is a prime example of one of the things that make the band so unique – the regional quality of the songs, and the expert way that the stories are told, without being judgmental or preachy. The title track deals with the same storyline as “The Fireplace Poker,” about a preacher who has his wife murdered, and is also among the better tracks on the album, but in comparison it feels like a lesser cousin to “The Fireplace Poker.”
The album sees the band, and especially Hood, exploring new sounds and the album is bracketed by two strong examples; it opens with “I Do Believe” and closes with “Mercy Buckets;” the highlight of the album. “I Do Believe” is the poppiest the band has ever sounded and it is the only truly up-tempo song on the album, with “Mercy Buckets” being the band’s first pure love song, featuring a gorgeous vocal by Hood and beautiful guitar lines. A return to their classic sound, albeit with a twist, is seen on their pre-album release single “Used To Be A Cop” with its menacing beat and story about an ex-cop looking back at everything he’s lost.
Much of the new direction for the band might be credited to their work with soul legends Bettye Lavette and Booker T. Jones, and their infatuation with Muscle Shoals soul musician Eddie Hinton. In a first for the band, they even include two Hinton covers, “Everybody Needs Love” and “Where’s Eddie.” Despite the band’s impeccable performances and excellent vocals (courtesy of Patterson Hood and Shonna Tucker, respectively), the two tracks don’t feel like they truly belong on the album, an illustration of just how strong and distinctive this band’s “personality” is.
Mike Cooley often delivers the best song on each Drive-By Truckers album (“Zip City,” “Marry Me,” “A Ghost To Most” etc.) but on Go-Go Boots he’s lacking that one great song, even if all three of his contributions are very good. “Cartoon Gold” in particular features many lines as good as most he’s written. Shonna Tucker takes a backseat on this one writing only “Dancin’ Ricky” for the regular album (plus one vinyl-only bonus track), and singing the aforementioned “Where’s Eddie.” Despite a couple of awkward lines “Dancin’ Ricky” shows her continuing growth as a songwriter and both songs showcase her impressive vocals, which are getting better with each album.
Go-Go Boots is the Drive-By Truckers album that contains the most mid-tempo songs, which means that it lacks the tracks that really stand out on a casual listen, and while the first listen may lack the punch you would expect, it is also an album that rewards repeated listens – in a similar way to how Brighter Than Creation’s Dark still continues to grow on me despite having been in steady rotation for three years. The album’s main appeal is its consistently strong songwriting but there are a few tracks which get lost in the shuffle, like the record label-f**k you of “Assholes,” “Ray’s Automatic Weapon” and “The Thanksgiving Filter,” tracks that would normally be remembered, but here risk floating together with the rest of album due to the similarities in the tempo. All in all this is not as good as the band’s best albums, but that speaks more to the extremely high quality of the band’s work than to this one lacking in quality. Take the strong songwriting, add the excellent production by David Barbe, and the tight and first rate playing, and you’ve got an album that truly showcases just how skilled and versatile the band is.