Rock ‘n’ roll never dies |

Rock ‘n’ roll never dies

Matt Zalaznick

Drive-By Truckers, “Dirty South”Yes, there’s still a place in rock ‘n’ roll for sweaty Southerners with beards, thick Alabama accents and guitars as loud as jet engines.Drive-By Truckers singers and songwriters Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell sound as ragged and wrung-out as Eric Clapton’s wasted wailing for Derek and the Dominos and Richard Manuel’s and Rick Danko’s lonesome moaning with the Band.”Dirty South” – a concept album of sorts that tells bitter tales of tornadoes and Southern crime, dead-end jobs at Wal-Mart and young wives dead of cancer, prison gangs and John Wayne’s absence from the real-life battle of Iwo Jima – is an invigorating barrage of music that snakes under the skin to stay.”Tornadoes,” for example, appears to be an ironic story of an Alabama husband sucked out of his house by a twister. His wife thinks he’s been killed, but he turns up in Kansas. But the Truckers don’t say whether he’s on the run or got carried there by the tornado.Two of the best songs on “Dirty South” are “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and “John Wayne.” On the first, Hood sings about a hard-luck Southerner in a crumbling town near at NASA plant who can’t afford chemotherapy for his sick wife. She dies and the only job he can get is at Wal-Mart. Eventually, things get so hopeless that even NASA shuts down. “Iwo Jima” is a song about an old man who is forever scarred by his fighting at Iwo Jima. In later life, the misery he saw in the Pacific damns him to a life of driving old cars, because he can’t bring himself to buy something new knowing the terrible things men have done to each other. The band launches three growling guitars at its listeners, but doesn’t overdo it with gaudy solos and the music barrels along from start to finish like a bus-full of boozy beatniks careening down a mountain pass in neutral.

But the Drive-By Truckers aren’t trying to save gas. By the end of “Dirty South,” the bands sounds emotionally spent by its own thundering and the last song, “Goddamn Lonely Love,” is as busted-hearted a bar-room ballad as ever was howled by Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson. “Dirty South” is candidate for album of the year. It might be a sure winner if Tom Waits wasn’t releasing a new album, “Real Gone,” on Oct. 5. Bottle Rockets, “Blue Sky”The Bottle Rockets, on their latest release, “Blue Sky,” continue to be as blue collar as Springsteen and more NASCAR dad than Toby Keith – and they rock as hard as Creedence Clearwater Revival. While Springsteen’s epics of the lower middle class are grand Romeo-and-Juliet-and-hot rod sagas of suburban desperation, the Bottle Rockets may be the only guys – along with Homer Simpson – to revel in the blessings of being home on workmen’s compensation. “A guy like me don’t get many lucky breaks, so when he gets a good one he grabs all he can take. I fell I down, so here I lay. Got the workmen’s comp so everything’s OK.” Later the son:” … I’m sleeping late, I say what the heck. This is my dream come true, doing nothing gettin’ a check.”

Rather than balladeering Springsteen’s vast urban malaise, Bottle Rockets songs are less existential. They’re about mortgages, motor vehicles and that grinding endeavor that takes up most people’s days from 9 to 5. And because the Bottle Rockets are a working band – meaning they probably have to tour and put out records to make a living – the songs sound more sincere than those of millionaire rockers and country stars who try to pull off lunch-pail personas. “Got a little house, I’m paying on it still. Got a little car with a little tank to fill. Got a little job I get a little pay and I worry about getting laid off every day,” singer Brian Henneman sings in “Man of Constant Anxiety.” “Blue Sky” is not a good as the band’s masterpiece – the hard to find “The Brooklyn Side” (which is unavailable on Amazon, but can be downloaded from iTunes and Rhapsody) – it’s a pretty good album with only one real dud. The song “I Don’t Wanna Go Back” sounds like an entirely different band. Still, “Blue Sky” is probably one of the better albums released last year. Elvis Costello, “Delivery Man”The downfall of putting out a bunch of superior records in the late ’70s and early ’80s is that anything you release in, say, 2004, will be inevitably held to the same lofty standards. There’s no “Oliver’s Army” or “Radio Radio” on Elvis Costello’s latest release, “Delivery Man,” but pop gems such as those don’t come around too often and Costello, who also wrote “What’s So Funny ‘Bout (Peace, Love and Understanding),” “Accidents Will Happen,” and “Watching the Detectives,” has clearly recorded more than his share. “Delivery Man” is still a strong album. It’s crisper and edgier than his previous release, the muddy, off-key batch of ballads, “North,” which came out last fall.

Costello’s lyrics are less unique, urgent and scathing than they used to be – they’ve grown, over the years, farther from Johnny Rotten and closer to John Updike or John Cheever. The songs, which Costello still packs full of meaning, are not so much about the old themes of social hypocrisy and cruelty as they are about fizzling relationships, post-modern longing and regret. One terrific and angry exception is “Bedlam,” which appears to be a philippic against the true believers of the West, whether they’re patriots, media moguls or religious zealots: “They’ve got this scared and decorated girl strapped to the steel trunk of a mustang. And they drove her down a cypress grove where traitors hang and stars still spangle. They dangled flags and other rags along a colored thread of twine. And then they dragged the bruised and purple heart along the road to Palestine.” And there’s plenty of charging rock ‘n’ roll on the album. The opening track is a romping, fussy jangle of guitars called “Button My Lip” and the most of the album alternates between rockers and quieter tunes, like “Country Darkness” and the title track, “Delivery Man,” which sounds like the inspiration for Updike’s next novel: “In a certain light he looked just like Elvis. In a certain way he feels like Jesus. Everyone dreams of him just as they can, but he’s only the humble delivery man.” City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or Vail, Colorado

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