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On American Band, Drive-By Truckers dig through the country’s toxic mix of violence and racism

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Few working bands embrace their southern heritage as proudly as Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers, which makes their decision to wade right through the country’s political divide all the more stunning. The group intentionally dropped its strong new album American Band (ATO) at the end of September, just as the presidential election neared the height of its fractious run, and aside from the record’s meaty guitar chords, raw soul, and raucous attack there’s nothing to please the supporters of our new president. In the press materials, founding member Mike Cooley says, “I wanted this to be a no bones about it, in your face political album. I wanted to piss off the assholes.” On the opener Cooley tells the story of Texan Harlon Carter—a former leader of the NRA who at 17 was convicted of murdering a Mexican boy, Ramon Casiano, in Laredo—eventually fanning out to examine the toxic mix of violence and racism that has been spreading throughout the country: “Men whose triggers pull their fingers / Men who’d rather fight than win / United in a revolution / Like in mind and like in skin.” Cooley’s “Ever South” offers a more complicated indictment, digging into the south’s deeply ingrained racism from the perspective of white ethnics—themselves once reviled. Patterson Hood’s plaintive “Guns of Umpqua” paints a no less disturbing portrait of America, toggling between bucolic images of rural Oregon and the deadly classroom shooting at the Umpqua Community College in October of 2015. Pulling off this kind of album isn’t easy, but the gritty melodies and stomping rhythms only enhance the righteous messages that transcend particular moments in American history, even as they unmistakably spring from the present.   v

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