I’ve been listening intently to an album by the rock band Drive-By Truckers called “Southern Rock Opera”. This album is widely considered to be the magnum opus of the band many critics consider to be the best working hard rock band.
I’ve never been infatuated with the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd, or the culture of the southern United States (this album primarily focuses on Alabama, the state which Patterson Hood, the major songwriter and bandleader, hails from), but this album paints an incredibly objective and unbiased picture of the south and its customs. Songs themes range from high school rave-ups to spoken word dialogues about the three most important Alabama historical figures: Ronnie Van Zant (lead singer during Lynyrd Skynyrd’s golden age), Bear Bryant, and George Wallace.
The music is a bit loud and heavy for my taste, but the astounding imagery created by the lyrics softens the blow. The melodies provide instantly memorable backdrops for the stories Hood creates, and his haunting, scratchy, twangy southern drawl matches perfectly with the intended mood. The intended mood is celebratory mixed with disdain, depending on the song.
I think what I love best is that a contemporary band pays homage to their musical roots without copying them. As mentioned, I think Lynyrd Skynyrd is OK, but I really like other artists associated with the Southern Rock style like The Allman Brothers, the Outlaws, and early Charlie Daniels Band. This release puts some modern perspective on their influence, as well as novelties and customs that pervade southern America. A masterwork.