Mike Cooley fans rejoice! The Cooleybird flag is flown high on the Drive-By Truckers tenth studio album English Oceans. The two-headed power house of not only song writing but also face-melting guitar solos of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley remains the same, with Jay Gonzalez on the keys plus some guitar work, and flanked by the rhythm section of Brad “Easy B” Morgan and former Dexateen Matt Patton and of course produced by the indelible David Barbe. This is the first studio effort of the evolved line up since the departure of long time bass slayer Shonna Tucker and pedal steel guitar contributor John Neff. I’m still having trouble with not hearing the latter in the mix anymore although the Gonzalez piano and keyboard fills do a fine job of taking my mind off of it at times. Matt Patton’s ever- bobbing mop top was the perfect choice to accompany Morgan and there is definitely an exciting chemistry evolving between them.
English Oceans marks the first time the song writing credits are nearly halved between Hood and Cooley. Although a constant contributor to some avail; past albums have been mostly Hood penned contributions peppered with some Cooley gems. His songs for English Oceans will definitely fill your Cooley playlist on your itunes or however you may organize your music collection. The opener “Shit Shots Count” notes the first time a horn section has accompanied a Drive-By Trucker album that gives a little Memphis-esque flavor. The stretched out guitar solo work is a notable change to this album than those prior. If you’ve ever had the honor of seeing them live the highlights are always the two headed dragon fire of Patterson and Mike trading blazing solos and feeding of one another.
“Primer Coat” is another Cooley written highlight about failing relationships and told only the way he can. “Til He’s Dead or Rises” marks the first time Mike Cooley handles the vocals on a song written by Patterson. Cooley just nailed the vocal in the fashion Patterson was hearing it in his mind so the story goes. Naturally that was the way to record it. It’s great to see that a somewhat tumultuous relationship throughout the years between the two seems to be as tight as ever. I’m sure it’s due to the breath of fresh air this record seems to have been for the Drive-By Truckers as a whole. It is in my opinion the best effort since the departure of Jason Isbell and the cohesiveness can be attributed to over a year of touring together as the new line up before entering the studio for a new album.
Saving the best for last Patterson Hood’s heart felt tribute to Craig Lieske “Grand Canyon” rounds out English Oceans. It was written for the longtime merch man and local Athens, GA musician who I can attest was one hell of a guy and was a brother in the Drive-By Trucker family. He passed on regrettably from a heart attack in January of 2013 and I’m sure his spirit lives on night after night as music fills the air of the 40 Watt in Athens, GA. That’s home base arguably for The Truckers as they tend to kick off every new tour there with a three night stand before setting out in support of a new record. The song is nearly eight minutes of pure magic. Patterson puts it all on the canvas and it’s a brilliant display of songwriting. Not that I can consider myself a friend of Lieske but it reduced me to a tear or two I’m not scared to admit. English Oceans is the best effort studio wise by the Drive-By Truckers in a while and it is creeping up the list as one of my favorites by the band with every listen. Looking forward to testing these new songs live on my earholes March 20th at Terminal 5 in NYC for the god only knows umpteenth time.
+Words: Scott Zuppardo+