Band: Drive-By Truckers, Hiss Golden Messenger Thursday, April 13, with doors at 7 p.m. Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St., www.soulkitchenmobile.com Tickets: $25 advance/$30 day of show; available at venue, its website, Mellow Mushroom (both locations) or by calling 1-866-777-8932
Drive-By Truckers and Hiss Golden Messenger will share the Soul Kitchen stage Thursday evening in support of recent albums that are true personal testaments. Hiss Golden Messenger will open the show with tracks from the band’s latest release on Merge Records, “Heart Like a Levee.” The band is a platform for the versatile compositions of frontman/guitarist M.C. Taylor.
From track to track, this singer-songwriter gracefully walks many different stylistic paths. “Heart Like a Levee” seamlessly shifts between folk, rock and alt. country with a little groove courtesy of “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer.” Taylor even gives a nod to the Gulf Coast with the album’s Dylanesque opener, “Biloxi.”
“I would say that I really like that part of the country,” Taylor said. “I’m drawn to the water and the history of that place, and I don’t know why that is. I’m fascinated by that particular part of the South. There are a lot of different Souths. The Biloxi area is one that I’m fascinated with, for some reason or another.”
Taylor penned the songs during an intense period of transition in which he traded the 9-to-5 world to pursue his musical endeavors. During this time, a snowstorm forced the band to seek haven in a hotel room for a few days. This downtime forced Taylor to review recent events in his life, with thoughts of losing upcoming shows due to the storm acting as a backdrop.
“It gave me a lot of time to think, and think long and hard about the path [being a full-time musician] that I was about to set out on,” Taylor said. “No shows meant no money at the time. I think that I obviously did not take the decision to play music full-time lightly. When you are counting on making a certain amount of money, and it’s taken away, it makes you face something kind of scary.”
While some of these thoughts brought uneasiness, other thoughts gave Taylor self-assurance. He says this dedication to his art was a chance to for his children to “understand their father as a man in love with his world and the inventor of his own days.”
This testimony is rooted in Taylor’s view of his parents. The songwriter admits he had a “really good upbringing” by parents who were happy people. However, he was haunted by their lack of passion and consummation when it came to “what they did.” Taylor hopes his children will learn the power of having passions and letting them fill every part of daily life.
“I think that approach to life is powerful,” Taylor said. “I like for my kids to see that their dad is able to put something into the world that affects people in a positive way.”
Anyone wanting Taylor to provide details as to the inspirations behind his songs might be disappointed. He feels his songs should be subject to personal interpretation, and will be the first person to encourage listeners to find their own interpretation of the album. He says he would rather leave his listeners with more questions than answers.
Taylor says he feels people need to take comfort in throwing a “question out into the cosmos without having an answer.”
“I’m not trying to teach anybody anything,” Taylor explained. “That’s one thing that I have to be careful of. I always want to be clear that I’m not trying to dispense wisdom. I just have a particular language that I use to describe certain things.”
After Hiss Golden Messenger’s testimony, one of Alabama’s most enigmatic rock outfits will take the stage. Since 1996, the Drive-By Truckers have been the musical ambassadors of the New South. Cuts from their latest album, “American Band,” will no doubt be heard by their Soul Kitchen audience.
A flashback to the Drive-By Truckers’ early days, “American Band” is filled with stellar rock anthems crafted for listening environments ranging from the barroom to the back roads. Members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley shared songwriting duties for “American Band,” which began with their last release “English Ocean.” Hood likens Cooley’s songs to an untapped source of musical gold he has known existed for years.
“I can’t wait to hear Cooley’s next song,” Hood said. “I’ve been that way since he started writing songs. I probably could be his biggest fan. For years before he ever admitted to writing songs, I would kinda get onto him and say, ‘Man! You should write songs! You think like a really good writer.”
This album also reflects a concept repeated throughout the Drive-By Truckers’ catalog. Hood says many songs on 2001’s “Southern Rock Opera” were set in the late ‘70s. The songs on their 2004 album “The Dirty South” were set during the Reagan era. For this album, the Drive-By Truckers are focusing on the “here and now.” Hood has made this album the personal testimony of a Southern liberal in a time when the rest of the nation sees the South as exclusively conservative.
When news of the album and its concepts first hit the public, Hood says, the band received some “nastiness on Facebook,” which was ignored. He explains the political and social messages echoing through “American Band” are nothing new to the Drive-By Truckers’ music, but this album sends the message a little more directly than previous releases.
“I grew up in Alabama, but I grew up around liberals,” Hood said. “We’re a minority and will probably always will be a minority in the South. It’s been very rare that I’ve voted for somebody that won and even rarer that I’ve voted for anyone that won in my home state. That’s been part of the dynamic. My dad was a Jesse Jackson supporter in 1988. You can imagine how many guys in Culver County voted for Jesse Jackson in 1988.”
Even so, Hood wasn’t sure how the public would react to the album’s tracks, especially on tour. However, Hood says “American Band” has been the band’s “best received record ever.” The album has received great reviews. Hood says their shows in Europe were one of their best runs through the area, with one performance in London selling out a 3,000-seat venue.
“I’ve been really pleased,” Hood said. “I didn’t know how it would be received. You never know what other people are gonna think about it, until you get out there and play it and work it.”
Hood says he has enjoyed watching this album make people think, and hopes its messages lead others to become more empathetic. While he enjoys the sociopolitical messages of “American Band,” he also wants listeners to remember Drive-By Truckers is still a rock outfit, and “American Band” definitely delivers on that level, maintaining the hard-driving, raw Southern rock that has been pleasing the masses from the beginning.
“I’m really proud of this record on a lot of different levels, including that it sounds good blasting through a car stereo driving down the road,” Hood said.