Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling

Ryan Reed on February 24, 2020
Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling

“Armageddon’s back in town again,” Patterson Hood sings over a crunching Heartland rock riff. And he ain’t lying: Drive-By Truckers’ 12th LP documents the myriad ways the United States has come unraveled: mass shootings so frequent, we simply scroll past the news stories (devastating folk tune “Thoughts and Prayers”), immigration policies that separate parents from children (the frazzled, slow-grinding “Babies in Cages”), deadly white privilege (brooding ballad “Grievance Merchants”), domestic violence (windows-down power-pop anthem “Slow Ride Argument”) and fossilized coal towns ravaged by a shifting economy (twangy strummer “21st Century USA”). The band’s longtime songwriters, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley , always swing for the fences when the game’s on the line: Their most ambitious works, like concept albums Southern Rock Opera and The Dirty South , wring pathos and resiliency from hypocrisy and injustice. But like their overtly political 2016 record American Band, The Unraveling is uniquely tapped into the singular shit-show of a particular era. Even the quietest moments here, like the chiming piano of epic opener “Rosemary With a Bible and a Gun,” are charged with urgency; and the noisiest rave-ups, like the string-driven drum kit cacophony from the climax of “Armageddon’s Back in Town,” communicate pure emotion. Hood’s never penned a heavier knock-out punch than “Thoughts and Prayers,” one of the most artful meditations on gun violence ever put to tape. “When the carnage was over, you could hear the cell phone’s ringing/ You could smell gunpowder in the air,” he sings over snapping acoustic chords. Once the smoke clears from The Unraveling , you feel moved—but also moved to take a stand.