Though the Drive-By Truckers have never shied away from tales of the darker side of life in the rural South, they go even further on their eleventh album, Go-Go Boots. The album, which skims through a spectrum of styles between country and southern rock, is tied together by a theme of misfortune and self-imposed ruin. The only glimmers of hope come in nostalgia, as in the lazily rocking, sepia-tinged “I Do Believe”.
Songs range from drawn-out, detail-filled southern rock numbers similar to the band’s previous work, as in the track “Fireplace Poker”, to pure country riffs, accompanied by the longing vocals of bassist Shonna Tucker, as on “Dancin’ Ricky”. While we’re used to hearing Patterson Hood as the voice of the Drive-By Truckers, bassist Tucker and another band member, Mike Cooley, lend their vocals at times to give a distinctive, more traditional country-western sound on tracks “Dancin’ Ricky”, “Cartoon Gold”, “The Weakest Man”, and “Pulaski”.
Though the tales are more fatalistic than in previous albums, they’re still delivered in Hood’s signature story-telling style, resulting in long tracks like the 7:06 minute song “Used To Be a Cop”. This song exemplifies what can be expected from Hood and the band – a tale of loss and inevitable solitude, of self-defeat and resigned resentment. The singer describes how, “The police academy gave me the only thing I was ever good at / But my temper and the shakes and they took that thing away.” The rest of the song, and the rest of the album, continues in the same vein, looking back on things gone wrong.
The album ends with an uncharacteristic hint of something resembling hope in the song “Mercy Buckets”. Even that, though, promises little because it suggests mercy can only come from others who have also reached rock bottom.
Overall, Go-Go Boots is a more melancholy twist on the Drive-By Truckers’ earlier albums. The lyrics are interesting and straightforward. The music is repetitive and slow building, making the backdrop to scenes of small-town betrayal. The album doesn’t stray far from the band’s other work, but it’s enjoyable.