Drive-By Truckers, Lucinda Williams
901 Wharf St SW
Washington, DC, 20024
Doors 6:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
Drive-By Truckers have always been outspoken, telling a distinctly American story via craft, character, and concept, all backed by sonic ambition and social conscience. Founded in 1996 by singer/songwriter/guitarists Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, the band have long held a progressive fire in their belly but with AMERICAN BAND, they have made the most explicitly political album in their extraordinary canon. A powerful and legitimately provocative work, hard edged and finely honed, the album is the sound of a truly American Band – a Southern American band – speaking on matters that matter. DBT made the choice to direct the Way We Live Now head on, employing realism rather than subtext or symbolism to purge its makers’ own anger, discontent, and frustration with societal disintegration and the urban/rural divide that has partitioned the country for close to a half-century. Master songwriters both, Hood and Cooley wisely avoid overt polemics to explore such pressing issues as race, income inequality, the NRA, deregulation, police brutality, Islamophobia, and the plague of suicides and opioid abuse. As a result, songs like "What It Means" and the tub-thumping "Kinky Hypocrites" are intensely human music from a rock ‘n’ roll band yearning for community and collective action. Fueled by a just spirit of moral indignation and righteous rage, AMERICAN BAND is protest music fit for the stadiums, designed to raise issues and ire as the nation careens towards its most momentous election in a generation.
"I don’t want there to be any doubt as to which side of this discussion we fall on," Hood says. "I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding of where we stand. If you don’t like it, you can leave. It’s okay. We’re not trying to be everybody’s favorite band, we’re going to be who we are and do what we do and anyone who’s with us, we’d love to have them join in."
Mike Cooley is somewhat more direct. "I wanted this to be a no bones about it, in your face political album," he says. "I wanted to piss off the assholes."
AMERICAN BAND’s considerable force can in part be credited to the sheer musical strength of the current Drive-By Truckers line-up, with Hood and Cooley joined by bassist Matt Patton, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez, and drummer Brad Morgan – together, the longest-lasting iteration in the band’s two-decade history. AMERICAN BAND follows ENGLISH OCEANS and 2015’s IT’S GREAT TO BE ALIVE!, marking the first time DBT have made three consecutive LPs with the same hard-traveling crew.
"This is the longest period of stability in our band’s history," says Hood. "I think we finally hit the magic formula. It’s made everything more fun than it’s ever been, making records and playing shows."
Drive-By Truckers might have maintained constancy but Hood embraced change by moving his family to Portland, OR in July 2015, a physical shift which he says "opened the floodgates" to a batch of deeply felt, strikingly emotional new songs. Having recorded the bulk of their canon in Athens, GA, the band was also eager to reinvent their own surroundings. Memphis was considered but when DBT’s November 2015 tour wrapped in Nashville, the band decided to spend a few days at the legendary Sound Emporium getting a head start on the new record.
Never ones to screw around in the studio, DBT cranked out nine new songs in just three 14-hour shifts, as ever with producer/engineer David Barbe at the helm. Coming in directly from the road put a head of steam behind the band, allowing them to lay it all out live on the floor, tracking songs like "Once They Banned Imagine" in little more than a single take.
"We realized we had most of the record," Hood says, "so we went back after the holidays for four more days, but ended up finishing it in three. We tend to usually take about two weeks to make a record so this was really quick."
"That was a lot of fun," the Alabama-based Cooley says, "and a shorter drive for me."
Speed was of the essence, as DBT was determined to get their record out at the height of the 2016 election season. By their very nature, Drive-By Truckers has always been an inherently political act, "but this is the first time it’s been out there on the surface," Cooley says, "No bones about it."
"I’ve always considered our band to be political," Hood says. "I’ve studied and followed politics since I was a small kid. I got in trouble in third grade for a paper I wrote about Watergate – the teacher sent a note home to my parents saying I was voicing opinions about our president that she didn’t appreciate. That’s the one time I got in trouble at school where my parents sided with me."
"SOUTHERN ROCK OPERA was a pretty political record," Cooley says. "But we hadn’t had our first black president yet. We hadn’t sat in the bleachers and watched the backlash, which, as acquainted as we are with racism, went beyond what anyone imagined it would be."
Political matters reared their head on 2014’s ENGLISH OCEANS, most explicitly on Cooley’s "Made Up English Oceans," detailing the life and crimes of late Republican black ops master Lee Atwater. Hood further sharpened his own skills by penning an op-ed for the New York Times condemning the Confederate Flag and its vile role in Southern culture.
"That was a major learning experience," he says. "Working with an editor, how to streamline what I’m trying to say, how to find the most powerful part and get rid of some of the excess. It was really grueling but I was eager to take it on and learn as much as I could from it."
Hood delivered a finished draft to the Old Gray Lady and within moments, wrote the ferocious "Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn" on a borrowed guitar – his own gear in a moving van on its way to his family’s new home in Portland. The song, like so much of the album, is a direct response to 2014’s police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, a moment both Hood and Cooley see as the catalyst for their blunt new approach. Long haunted by the police shooting of a mentally ill neighbor in his former hometown of Athens, GA, Hood wrote "What It Means" in the heat of Ferguson, Staten Island, and the subsequent emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"It was all in my head and just kind of bubbling at the surface," Hood says. "I think we knew early on that was the direction this record was going to go in."
Hood’s friend and collaborator for more than half their lives, Cooley was a on similar trip, reading, writing, and pondering the very same issues that rend the country in two.
"We have conversations about all this stuff," he says, "but not necessarily in terms of planning an album or anything. Then we go home, he writes a song, I write a song, and they’re both basically about the same thing."
"We tend to come to the same conclusions separately but together," Hood says. "We don’t really discuss it until we have a bunch of songs. We’ve always been astounded at how much common ground our songs have, record after record. SOUTHERN ROCK OPERA is the only time we discussed a game plan for what we were going to write, the only time. It’s kind of uncanny. Truly a beautiful thing."
Further creative inspiration came from a pair of American milestone pieces of art, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ National Book Award-winning Between The World and Me and Kendrick Lamar’s TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY, "in my opinion, the greatest musical work of our current time," says Hood.
"It’s an inspiring album and one that made me question myself," he says. "I’m a white guy from the South, do I have the right to be singing about this stuff? What can I do? The only conclusion I could come up with was maybe white guys, with Southern accents, who look like rednecks, need to say Black Lives Matter too. It’s a start, a tiny start, but a step in the right direction is better than no step at all."
"I couldn’t not do it," says Cooley. "I’ve got to speak about this stuff, somehow or another. And I’m going to speak about it from a middle aged Southern white working class evangelical background male point of view."
Much like Lamar’s GRAMMY® Award-winning song cycle, AMERICAN BAND serves as a stark, tightly focused snapshot of today’s America, an exemplary illustration of rock ‘n’ roll as a vehicle for social commentary and clear-eyed reportage. "Guns of Umpqua" captures Hood’s reaction to the 2015 shooting at Roseburg, OR’s Umpqua Community College while Cooley’s breakneck "Ramon Casiano" is a topical folk rocker telling the little known tale of former National Rife Association leader Harlon Carter and the murder of 15-year-old Ramon Casiano. Known as "Mr. NRA," Carter transformed the organization from its original role as a sportsmen and conservationist group into what Cooley correctly declares "a right wing, white supremacist gun cult." A Southern-rooted band opening their album with such a song makes for a singularly powerful statement, the NRA’s monolithic control of the debate demanding opposing artists to be as overt and vocal on the issue as possible.
"The NRA needs to be turned into a political turd in a swimming pool," Cooley says, "so all these fuckers will start paddling away.
"What I’m trying to do is point straight to the white supremacist core of gun culture," Cooley concludes. "That’s what it is and that’s where its roots are. When gun culture thinks about all the threats they need to be armed against, what color are they?"
Of course the personal can also be politic, represented here by Hood’s deeply felt "Baggage." Penned the night of Robin Williams’ death, the song sees Hood examining his own demons and long bout with depression, "the worst I’ve had as an older adult," he says. "I was kind of blindsided by it. There had always been a tangible thing that I could point to as to what was wrong, but this time I was grasping for something and not quite finding it."
AMERICAN BAND is surprisingly optimistic thanks to Hood’s "absolutely" improved mental health as well as Drive-By Truckers’ passion for the issues behind the material. The band intend to hit the road harder than ever in support of AMERICAN BAND, bringing their songs to the people as they have always done, only this time with the country’s very future at stake. Fortunately for America, Drive-By Truckers are, as a Great Man once said, fired up, ready to go.
"I feel like Cooley and I both nailed what were going for on every song on this record," Hood says. "I don’t think there’s a wasted line or word on this record. There’s nothing I would change, that’s for sure. I think we got this one right."
"I’m sure there will be people saying ‘I wish they’d keep the politics out of it,’" Cooley says, "but one of the characteristics among the people and institutions we are taking to task in these songs is their self-appointed status as the exclusive authority on what American is. What is American enough and who the real Americans are. Putting AMERICAN BAND right out front is our way of reclaiming the right to define our American identity on our own terms, and show that it's out of love of country that we draw our inspiration."
In a rare instance of an artist taking a full-length reconsideration of an earlier work, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams will release This Sweet Old World – a complete re-recording of her 1992 album Sweet Old World – via Highway 20/Thirty Tigers on Sept. 29.
Produced by Williams and Tom Overby, This Sweet Old World — recorded to mark the 25th anniversary of the original album’s release by Chameleon/Elektra — features all- new renditions of the ’92 set’s 12 songs, some of which have been dramatically rearranged and rewritten.
On This Sweet Old World, Williams is supported by her touring and studio band: guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton, and drummer Butch Norton. Longtime collaborator Greg Leisz – who participated in early sessions for the 1992 album, and co- produced Williams’ most recent studio releases, The Ghosts of Highway 20 (2016) and Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014) – contributes spectacular guitar work.
The package is augmented by four newly recorded bonus tracks that harken back to Williams’ early performing career.
Sweet Old World contained several durable songs – the title track, “Pineola,” “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” and “Little Angel Little Brother” – that have been staples of Williams’ live sets since their original release.
However, the album as a whole has received comparatively short shrift, coming as it did between two landmarks in the musician’s career: her breakthrough self-titled album (issued by Rough Trade Records in 1988, and re-released in 2014 with a bonus CD of live material) and her major commercial hit Car Wheels On a Gravel Road (released by Mercury in 1998).
Call Sweet Old World the red-headed stepchild of Williams’ catalog, and she laughs in recognition.
She says, “Sweet Old World was really the only album after the Rough Trade album that sort of fell through the cracks a little bit. I remember going into a record store in Nashville and seeing it in the bin, and it had this sticker on it that said ‘out of print.’ I went up to the manager of this little indie store and said, ‘This isn’t out of print!’ He said, ‘Well, that’s what I had heard.’ It didn’t get attention paid to it that it should have had.”
To mark the quarter-century anniversary of the album, Williams and Overby – after some initial trepidation on the singer’s part – decided to go into engineer David Bianco’s North Hollywood studio Dave’s Room, where her last two albums were recorded, and recut the entire record in 10 days of sessions.
Williams says, “I wanted to stretch some of the songs out and bring them up to date a little bit more. Some I’ve continued to do over the years, like ‘Pineola’ and ‘Sweet Old World.’ Those have stood the test of time, so those have basically the same arrangements. But I wasn’t happy with the way every song on the record had been recorded.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to revisit all those songs. But ‘Six Blocks Way’ sounds a hundred times better than the original. It’s more jangly – it’s reminiscent of an early Tom Petty recording, and the Byrds, too. Stuart Mathis was doing the 12-string on that. Another one on the record that really surprised me is ‘Lines Around Your Eyes.’ Those were a little bit of a challenge – I initially rolled my eyes and said, ‘Really?’ And ‘Sidewalks of the City’ is like a different song now — it’s so relevant today.”
While Sweet Old World featured guest instrumentalists, This Sweet Old World eschews additional players, utilizing just the muscular band and Leisz. Stripped of their countrified arrangements, the songs “Prove My Love” and “Memphis Pearl” shine anew. Says Williams, “We talked about this and labored over it after we had the initial tracks down, about whether we should add other instruments, fiddle or whatever. Everybody said it sounds so raw and tight and good and spontaneous.”
The Sweet Old World song “He Never Got Enough Love” underwent a nearly complete metamorphosis, with Williams returning to her first draft of the lyrics and adding additional verses. The 2017 rendering appears on This Sweet Old World under the title “Drivin’ Down a Dead End Street.”
Williams says, “Tom saw the original lyrics; ‘He was drivin’ down a dead end street’ was the refrain when I first wrote the song. But at the time, Bob Dylan’s album Down in the Groove had come out, and he had a Hank Snow song on it called ’90 Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street).’ As soon as I heard it, I said, ‘Well, so much for that!’ I rewrote it, edited it, and took that off. Tom said, ‘I love that line, it’s a great line. Why don’t you work it back up like you were originally thinking.’ Then I decided on my own to write a couple of other verses to fill it out.”
Some of the brand-new bonus material on This Sweet Old World will be familiar to longtime fans. Williams’ live versions of John Anderson’s 1982 No. 1 country smash “Wild and Blue” and her take on Brit-blues power trio the Groundhogs’ version of the traditional “Factory Blues” are heard on the 2014 reissue of Lucinda Williams. The honky-tonk original “Dark Side of Life” was Williams’ first L.A. recording, heard on the 1988 country compilation A Town South of Bakersfield Vol. 2. “What You Don’t Know,” written by John Leventhal and Jim Lauderdale, was an outtake from the original Sweet Old World sessions.
Williams says of the regrooved This Sweet Old World, “Everything’s different now. It’s a different band, it’s a different studio. My voice is different — I think it’s better now. We lowered the keys on pretty much every song, and that’s going to give it a different sort of lushness. My voice is deeper and richer now, mature. It’s like a new album.”
There's something somewhat frightening, yet utterly liberating when leaving the confines of a successful band to venture solo — especially a band whose latest record was called "effortlessly brilliant" by critics. But, such is the case with Erika Wennerstrom who is taking a break from her Austin-based rock band, Heartless Bastards, to deliver her solo debut Sweet Unknown.
"It was a really freeing experience," reveals the singer/songwriter/guitarist. "I found my strength in my vulnerability as an artist, and really, just as a person. It kind of forced me to allow myself to be a little more exposed and stand on my own two feet. I feel like I've grown a lot creatively and personally."
But fans of Heartless Bastards — which has released five critically- acclaimed albums since their 2003 inception, appeared on many late night television shows, and has drawn praise from Rolling Stone, Time, New York Times — need not worry. The band has not broken up. "We'd been going for so long and everyone in the band was just ready for a little break. But I had songs in me that needed to come out. I didn't think it was fair to push them to keep going and I didn't want to do it without them under the band name," explains Wennerstrom, who enlisted the help of HB's Jesse Ebaugh to play bass on 8 of the 9 tracks on Sweet Unknown.
Fans can also rest assured that what they've grown to love about Wennerstrom's music is still front-and-center. Her trademark vocals that NPR so aptly calls "warm yet gritty, throaty yet sweet, gigantic, yet intimate" are that... times 10. And the bluesy, rock vibes that Relix describes as "smoky, late night [rock] that exists somewhere between Royal Trux and the Rolling Stones" has only gotten smokier and bluesier.
So, what is the difference? "It's just more of me," she says. "It's as simple as that. I was able to get deeper and you get another level of my heart and soul. And, it's really about my journey of self-awareness and healing and finding acceptance and self-love. It's very empowering."
While Wennerstrom has always been honest in the Heartless Bastards songs she's written, the 9 tracks that make up Sweet Unknown are even more personal and reflective, and for her, quite transformative as well.
"When I started writing this record, I thought about how maybe the struggles I've had at times in my life, and with writing, could be changed if I could put my energy and message towards others, but what I got was the most self healing I've ever had through the creative process. My positive message to others became my own mantra. It's like how sometimes we need to start listening to our own advice, and singing these songs repeatedly has given myself a message I need to hear when I sing them over and over again," she explains.
The album kicks off with the feel-good roadtrip vibes of "Twisted Highway," which Wennerstrom says sums up her musical journey on Sweet Unknown. She explains, "'Twisted Highway' is the process of learning more self-awareness and self-acceptance. Writing songs over the years has forced me to do a lot of self reflection, and I haven't always liked what I see. I really needed to change my way of thinking though. I chose to focus on the negatives within myself. I really needed to stop and take a look at what's good in my life."
On the somber psych-rocker "Staring Out the Window," the artist digs even deeper into the inner workings of her mind. "It's about discovering a pattern I established when I was young where when I'm around someone dark, unkind, or full of anger, I tend to internalize it and blame myself. I learned that sometimes we feel comfortable around people that aren't good for us because they feel familiar, but that can be the unhealthy pattern. I had to learn how to love myself more and break this pattern," she says.
Wennerstrom attributes her deep emotional journey, in part, to two pivotal trips in the past year, which resulted in 400 voice notes on her phone with various lyric and melody ideas. "I went down to the Amazon jungle in 2015 right before the last Heartless Bastards record, Restless Ones, was released. I was at a point where I was deeply unhappy, and on a whim, I decided to do an Ayahuasca [pronounced eye-uh-wah-ska] retreat. Despite the idea frightening me, I felt I needed something to change with in me so bad that I had nothing to lose. It really opened the door and started me on a path to many self realizations," she says.
Ayahuasca (an Amazonian hallucinagenic plant used in Shamanic healing ceremonies) is often used to help people break through emotional and creative barriers. For Wennerstrom, the experience helped her let go of the push-and-pull of ego and self- doubt. "It helped me be free to be honest with myself and put out what I think is my most honest record ever. It used to take me a while to get to that vulnerable place in my writing, but I got there faster this time. It just felt easier, more natural, and not as much second-guessing," she says.
The upbeat and optimistic "Letting Go" epitomizes that experience. "It's about letting go of what doesn't serve me anymore. I came to the realization that we all as human beings have an inner struggle. Sometimes even people that have so much are hard on themselves with a sense of guilt. We're all just doing the best we can in each moment. Some maybe more consciously than others. Perhaps it's my limited perspective, but I feel it's the human condition — an ancient feeling," she says.
Soon after the band decided to take a hiatus the following year, she also spent quite a bit of time hiking and reflecting in the mountains of West Texas in Big Bend National Park. Explaining the impact of that trip, she says, "That's where a lot of the ideas for the album came to me, and I spent the next year working on it. The song “Extraordinary Love” is the realization I do everything in my life for love. We all want to be liked and to give and receive love. If I can't be kind and loving to myself how can I expect anybody else to. It's starts with me. I find the most extraordinary thing is to be truly compassionate to yourself."
"Good To Be Alone" is just one sonic outcome of her Big Bend trip. "I wrote this one right after a long tour, and with it being one of the last ones the band did before our hiatus, I had quite a lot to think about. I did a big hike that day in Big Bend and the seeds for the idea were planted. I was so thankful for that time alone to recharge and ponder. This song expresses how deeply introverted I can be at times and how sometimes I just need to step away and take some time for myself," she says.
Clearly, that time alone was time well-spent. With Sweet Unknown, Erika Wennerstrom bravely invites the listener in to experience her trials and tribulations of life amidst a lush soundscape of deeply emotive vocals and melodies to what is ultimately the soundtrack to her soul.
$40.00 - $75.00
Super Excellent Seats are non-transferable. The ID of the person attending must match the purchaser’s name, which will be printed on the ticket face.