The change in sound can be mostly attributed to Cooley. He contribued six songs to the album, giving it a refreshed pace as the band alternates between him and Hood.
"I don't think we've ever had a record where Cooley was as deeply involved in every aspect of the making of it as he was this time," said Hood. "With Cooley's writing, there's almost no precedent for it in our catalog. He came in with this stunning bunch of songs, full of this beautiful imagery."
Cooley, who hadn't written as many songs as he wanted to on the last several albums, said he took advantage of a long rest after the last band's last tour. He revisited his approach to songwriting and was able to produce six tunes he cares strongly about. It comes across in his confident delivery.
Made Up English Oceans is a stark and tightly crafted track that brays on about prideful men who imagine themselves bigger than they ought to be. They often act without thinking, rushing up to act even they don't really know if their nerve will hold out. The tie to Lee Atwater adds more depth.
The track itself is a solidly written song, made even stronger when blended in with contributions from Hood. In fact, this is what makes the album so striking. While the artists worked independently, they were unknowingly creating material that complemented each other.
The dynamic is memorable because it creates a back-and-forth flow that is unique to the album but not their shows. Alternating between singers has been a long-time staple of Drive-by Truckers. They just do it all the more better now.
The Part Of Him by Hood captures the contrast nicely, accenting his much wearier voice that commands attention despite sounding so far away. The lyrics are less friendly, given that the song takes on politicians that can't be easily exorcised. It might be too cynical for some, but Hood makes it fun. He almost creates a sense of comfort in knowing that political scandals are part of the landscape.
Aside from their political outings, Drive-By Truckers dig deeper into other subjects. My favorite track on the album is based the new novel by Willy Vlautin. Hood hits the right chords in illuminating the disquiet and desperation of American life during distressing times.
Other standouts include the rollicking opener Shit Shots Count, the stirring yet subtle co-dependence track When He's Gone, and the touching tell-all Primer Coat. The CD loses some steam around the mid-point. It doesn't pick up again unit the boot stomping First Air Of Autumn and closer Grand Canyon.
English Oceans Rolls In And Out 7.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Fans of Drive-by Truckers will not be disappointed, with so many tracks featuring the band in top form. It's among their best in years. Even the songs that don't feel as lyrically vivid still sound great.