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Album review: Drive-By Truckers' 'The Big To-Do'

March 15, 2010 |  6:44 pm

DBT_240 "The Big To-Do" is the Drive-By Truckers' first album for Dave Matthews' ATO Records, and it also marks the studio debut of keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, who takes over the role played on the band's last set by veteran R&B session guy Spooner Oldham.

Musically, though, these 13 new tracks hardly represent a fresh start for the Truckers: Like the dozen or so releases that preceded it, "The Big To-Do" examines the rough-and-tumble lives of the unfortunate and the unwise over rowdy Southern-rock grooves teeming with fuzzy, Crazy Horse-style guitars.

"A family can't live on these fast-food wages," sings frontman Patterson Hood in one recession-minded track with an unprintable title, and that's as handy a demonstration as any here that a rabidly devoted fan base and reams of critical praise have done little to quell the group's underdog zeal.

As on past DBT albums, Hood occasionally cedes lead-vocal duties to one of his bandmates, which helps stave off the bar-band blahs that can threaten this kind of material. Guitarist Mike Cooley, in particular, provides some crucial tragicomic relief in "Birthday Boy," where he sketches out a scene of sex-worker ennui with brutal efficiency: " 'Which one's the birthday boy?' she said / 'I ain't got all night.' "

-- Mikael Wood 

Drive-By Truckers
"The Big To-Do"
Three stars (Out of four)