“It’s too soon”.
“Why not just release one classic album that has the best elements of both albums?”
“Almost every time an artist starts to get prolific, they get into trouble”.
These gripes/statements would be just superstition if each one didn’t have a bit of truth behind them. When a band is unsatisfied with the final product opts for a few extra months in the studio, it oftentimes results in a superior album. There are countless examples of flawed double albums (especially in the age of CDs) that could have easily been pared down to a great single album. And in terms of being prolific, artists such as Ryan Adams, Frank Black, and Prince have all weathered some criticisms for their occasional lack of self-editing.
Of course, the best way to diffuse this criticism is to release two classic albums. Another approach is to release two vastly different albums. The Drive-By Truckers has opted for the latter approach.
On last year’s The Big To-Do, the Drive-By Truckers, partly energized by the move to a new record label, released a barnstorming album that rocked as hard as any of their early releases, but also had a maturity to pull off some great narratives and whiskey-teared ballads. On this year’s Go-Go Boots, the statements aren’t nearly as boisterous, the mood is more consistent, and the characters that occupy the songs are more fleshed out.
The first four songs are bluesy, bar-band standards that we’ve come to expect from the Truckers. On “Cartoon Gold”, guitarist Mike Cooley delivers such black humor zingers as “It’s like bringing flowers to your mama and tracking dogshit all over the floor/Jesus made the flowers, but it took a dog to make the story good” over a shuffling percussion.
The unfortunate “sameness” of the four tracks on Go-Go Boots mars this album just like the latter half slightly tarnished the otherwise stellar The Big To-Do. But Boots takes a remarkable upswing with the track “Ray’s Automatic Weapon”. It breaks the monotony set by the first four songs. Jay Gonzalez’s sparse piano in the track makes the end of each stanza hit like a bullet.
“I Used to Be a Cop”, and “The Fireplace Poker”, both stretch out like mini novellas, each one going past the seven minute mark. The remarkable thing is that neither song feels bloated. Hood takes his time, painting the sketches of a disgraced officer and a minister who plots to kill his wife. The ending line, “Better call it suicide/justice has been heard”, packs a whallop of an impact as Brad Morgan’s dutiful drumming and Mike Cooley and Hood’s guitar work move the story along with a restrained purpose.
The general layout of songs on Go-Go Boots merits repeat listening as the album’s strongest material is reserved for its second half. The only major gripe of the album is Shonna Tucker’s vocals, usually reserved for the band’s best material, are underutilized. But that doesn’t keep Go-Go Boots from being a worthy purchase. With Hood’s songwriting remaining this solid and the band comfortably settling into a great groove, Go-Go Boots could have been four years in the waiting and still would not have disappointed.