Drive-by Truckers are one the biggest artists in the alternative country genre, having achieved huge success in the 90s with innovative concept albums such as Southern Rock Opera. The band have continually produced music since their founding in 1996, and frequently incorporate the world around them in their music.
The New OK is their second release this year, having previously released The Unraveling in January. This 9-song collection is directly inspired by the challenging political climate in America, and the bands’ frustrations caused by COVID-19.
The opening title track explores the bands’ emotions, painting a picture of ‘the new ok’. The song sets the stage for the rest of the project, thrusting their anger to the forefront. The song features some powerful lyrics, inspired by the unprecedented events of the last year.
“Okey-dokey for a broken fool
A new hand sign for your twisted ways
It’s the new OK”
This is followed by ‘Tough to Let Go’, a softer and more blues-inspired track. A heavily distorted guitar melody gives the song a full sound that makes it a hugely enjoyable listen. David Barbe is the band’s long-time producer, and on this song his talent can be appreciated. Each instrument used in the song has interesting solos that give the song some real soul.
‘Sarah’s Flame’ is another blues-inspired track, which also has some great production from Barbe. The lyrics tell the story of working-class woman called Sarah
“Knowing only momma’s boys would claim involuntary self-inflicted rage
Tiki’s would’ve never hit the streets if it weren’t for Sarah’s flame”
The band have always been excellent at story-telling lyrics that leave the listener asking questions, and this song is a fine example.
‘The Distance’ uses more simplistic instrumentation, to really highlight the anger in both the lyrics and the voice of Patterson Hood, the band’s lead singer. This is the most Southern-rock-inspired moment on the collection, and the use of heavy guitar and banjo blend to form a highly engaging sound.
A really haunting moment on the record is ‘Watching the Orange Clouds’, a doomsday tale that is both beautiful and scary. The lyrics do a brilliant job of painting a vivid picture of the end of the world, and it brings the album to a very complex place on its penultimate song:
“Across the Burnside Bridge
There’s heads getting bashed and teargas
Boys too stupid to really be proud
Watching the orange clouds”
To end the album, Drive-by Truckers take a simpler approach, covering the famous Ramones’ song, ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’. Hood’s unique raspy vocals give the song a fresh feel, and the classic punk song helps to round off an effective, layered collection.
This is an interesting listen from one of the established bands in alternative country, and having released two records this year, I cannot wait to see what they do next.