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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
+ Growing - Color Wheel
+ Red Carpet - The Noise Of Red Carpet
+ The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea
+ Espers - II
+ Wilderness - Vessel States

44.1 kHz Archive

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Drive-By Truckers
Southern Rock Opera
Lost Highway


Calling out "Free Bird" at a show is one of the most ubiquitous running tropes in all of rock 'n' roll. It's something that you yell out as a joke to your friend's band in a club. But in "Days of Graduation," the opening number of the Drive-By Truckers' tremendous Southern Rock Opera, the band darkens the joke several shades by associating it with one of the other great running tropes in rock 'n' roll: the deadly teen auto crash. And thus begins one of funniest, smartest, truest, saddest and flat-out rockingest (in the very best way) albums I've heard in a very long time.

By referencing and taking the piss out of Skynyrd's most parodied song up front, they can talk about what this record's really about: the people who first yelled "Free Bird" with no irony at all. Most of the record is about the regular Southern folks who hit puberty in the mid-1970s — some dead, some drunk, and some naked. But all of them have been living the life that got them that way — the rock 'n' roll life, as it was defined in the pre-punk 1970s. You know: long hair; long solos; short life.

So, it isn't so much about Lynyrd Skynyrd, but about what Skynyrd's music meant to them. And by extension, rock 'n' roll. The "hero" of the piece grew up a Skynyrd fan in the 1970s, but chose punk when it ripped the story of rock in half, and now he's slowly been piecing his own personal rock 'n' roll story back together.

My own personal rock 'n' roll story ain't so far off, with one crucial difference: I'm from California, which evokes mellowness and surfing, not segregation and long guitar solos. So among the many services this record does is a song like "The Three Great Alabama Icons," which is mostly about George Wallace, and challenges some of the preconceptions a laid-back (actually, I'm pretty intense) surfer-boy (I'd fall off a surfboard on dry land) had about Wallace and the South. Call it deconstruction of the fables. My favorite is the fact that Wallace is in hell now, not because he was the worst of the racists, but because he pandered to the worst just to get votes.

In the meantime the characters are dealing with the consequences of their rock 'n' roll lifestyle, some of it set to music you'd automatically associate with "Southern Rock" — the bluesy shuffle of "Wallace" or the three-guitar onslaught of "The Southern Thing" — and some of it not. Things like "Women Without Whiskey," "Let There Be Rock" or "Dead, Drunk and Naked" are square in the sound the you'd associate with any roots-based rockers of the past three decades, from the Rolling Stones to The Replacements to Ryan Adams.

Mr. Adams brings us to today, where we're smack dab in the middle of the 4th (or is it the 6th?) Rebirth of Rock 'n' Roll™. Of course, the DBT don't have a hope in George Wallace's hell of being lumped in with all of the "The" bands currently serving as the poster children for rock's latest "revival." Too trad. Too retro. But lemme tell you: the music here is no more (or less) retro-leaning or -based than The Hives' snotty garage, The Strokes' pretty-boy post-punk punk or the White Stripes' artsy blues. It's just that this music hasn't been cool for a long long time, 'cept to the kids who liked it.

Yet I can't imagine a rock 'n' roller of any stripe not responding to the sit-up-and-grin opening riff of "Life in the Factory," the amazing song that would have been the kick-off of Side 4 back in the day, and their actual summation of Skynyrd's life. "Let me tell y'all a story," Patterson Hood begins, after telling us a dozen other ones already, "so far fetched, it must be true." After telling Skynyrd's (more or less the truth) life story, it's time for the rip-roaring "Shut Up and Get on the Plane" (yes, that plane) and the even more rip-roaring "Greenville to Baton Rouge," one of the few places where they formally invoke Skynyrd's three-guitar sound. But in this case, they're also evoking Skynyrd's plane crash.

The plane crash frames the album in death, like any good opera. From the private tragedy of the car crash in the beginning to the all-too-public Skynyrd crash, we've come full circle. And, at the end, in the harrowing "Angels and Fuselage," the singer is in the trees, amid all of the wreckage, wishing for one more round, but mostly repeating "I'm scared shitless of what's coming next." I think sure, he might be singing from the perspective of Ronnie Van Zant, but I'll lay you odds that he's also singing from his own perspective. And mine. And maybe all of us, really.

"What song is it that you want to hear?!?"

by Jim Connelly

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