Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Horrorstruck that the Southern rock opera they composed over a decade ago has taken the dimensions of farce without the tragedy, the quintet mix up the vocals and the bitterness, foregoing any interest in boogie, let alone opera. Every album since 2007’s career-capping Brighter Than Creation’s Dark has boasted songs as intelligent as any in popular music without the intensity that made fans want to listen to their lyrics, with 2014’s English Oceans the nadir (“Drive-By Truckers began as a great band that wrote good songs, and have turned into a good band that wants to write good songs,” I wrote at the time). If American Band is a slight improvement, credit the collective will of fans who want one of the most feral of bands to explain what the hell’s going on with the election. So “explain” is what Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley do, with rhythm guitar strumming (“Guns of Umpqua) and riffs decent enough to repeat (“Darkened Flags”); sometimes they couple concept and arrangement like they used to (the Zuma-copping “Filthy and Fried”). Helping matter is Hood, who writes songs as solid as Cooley’s for the first time in eight years. Southern in his carriage, Southern in his stance, he’s trying to refute demographics and forty years of cynical electoral calculations. A shame that the moment for a crossover has passed – if it were ever there.
Solange Knowles – A Seat at the Table
Two keepers: the quiet, pained “Cranes in the Sky,” maintaining its composure while the world collapses; and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” a manifesto I can endorse. On the rest Solange Knowles must summon cohesion from melodic vapors. Andre Benjamin helps (“Junie”); so does, of all people, Master P, on the interludes. Listeners who skip them will miss spoken word bits as stirring as the videos for Lemonade absent the robust musical armature.