Ever since Jason Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers, co-founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have pushed the band’s working-class politics front and center. Just before the 2016 elections, the Alabama/Georgia ensemble released American Band, a call to action still infused with Obama-era hope. The 12th studio release, The Unraveling (ATO), carries the bitterness and gloom of the Trump era and an economic recovery not felt in the rural South. Still, Hood and Cooley urge their listeners not to give up.
One could argue there are still moments of strident organizing in tracks like “Armageddon’s Back in Town” and “21st Century USA,” though when the band adopts a brash rocking style akin to The Hold Steady or Bruce Springsteen, the message can seem forced. It’s far more successful when the Drive-By Truckers preserve a hint of country twang, as in the bitter anthem “Thoughts and Prayers.” When arrangements such as this are glued to progressive politics, traditional notions of Southern rock get turned upside down.