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Albums of the Year 2020: Drive-By Truckers - The Unraveling | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2020: Drive-By Truckers - The Unraveling

Albums of the Year 2020: Drive-By Truckers - The Unraveling

Sorrow and anger at a trampled American Dream

When satire becomes redundant, all that’s left is to tell it like it is. Drive-By Truckers released The Unraveling in January 2020, but Covid couldn’t dim the relevancy and glowering power of its requiem for Trump-trampled American hopes.

Patterson Hood’s high, sorrowing voice suited both the appalled “Babies in Cages” and “21st Century USA”, a sympathetic panorama of a ground-down country: “Men working hard for not enough, at best/Women working just as hard for less/They get together late at night in bars/Bang each other just like crashing cars.” Cleansing guitar thunder contributed to a building crescendo of visceral dismay at Trump and his ilk, till “Awaiting Resurrection” bitterly concluded: “In the end we’re just standing/Watching greatness fade/Into darkness...awaiting resurrection.”

As with the similarly political American Band (2016), DBT drew ire and lost fans, but were just getting started. Covid pulling the plug on a band who live to play provoked a still more incendiary, at least equal sequel, The New OK, in October. And even that double-hit wasn’t their most exhilarating contribution to 2020. Hood also produced Jerry Joseph’s The Beautiful Madness, backed in the studio by DBT (plus former member Jason Isbell). Joseph, a 59-year-old, barely known songwriting hero of Hood’s, drew furious and nuanced performances from the musicians, as he stepped boldly inside violent and prejudiced mentalities. “Good” and “Sugar Smack” conjured psychedelic fever dreams of refugee camps and unapologetic misogyny with punk abandon, censoring nothing. “Dead Confederate”, told from the viewpoint of a racist statue as it falls, burrowed deep inside the stone heart of America’s original sin, just as conflicted Alabamians DBT always have.

The Unraveling was mostly recorded in Sam Phillips’ resonant, post-Sun Memphis studio, and all these records, ideally heard late at night on vinyl, conveyed the sound of committed musicians together in a room. Joseph didn’t need a pandemic to observe, “We have ten thousand friends/Not one can hold our hand”, in a year which merely brought home all the iniquities, charlatan leaders, spiritual hunger and looming crises facing us all along. It was made easier by a stellar run of albums, from Dylan’s magisterially wrought, impish Rough and Rowdy Ways to the liquid sexuality of Marcus Sumney’s grae, and limpid Irish soul of Brigid Mae Power’s Head Above the Water. 2020 also granted us just enough time to unwittingly grab last gigs. Music’s communal purpose was revealed in its aching absence.

Two more essential albums of 2020
Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways
Charles Lloyd - 8 Kindred Spirits (Live from the Lobero)

Musical Experience of the Year
A day-night coach trip from Brighton to see Elvis Costello & the Imposters at Liverpool Olympia, a sticky-floored, proper gig in front of Elvis’s Liverpudlian Mum and a righteous crowd. And rock’n’roll poet Brendan Cleary turning the lights out at Brighton’s Great Eastern pub, just before lockdown, poignant as anything.

Track of the Year
“Murder Most Foul” Bob Dylan

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