Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
First of all, let me say that I have been a monster fan of the Drive By Truckers (DBTs) for 12 years now. There are no bands currently like them putting out such high quality material and touring almost nonstop. They have such an amazing relationship with their fans and audience that is unrivaled. At a live show, it is very common to hear the crowd uttering every word of every song as loud as the band. So having said all that, I will try to give American Band a fair and unbiased review. I will try, I said.
First of all, the title of the album is absolutely perfect. American Band connotes a blue collar, band of the people. That is exactly what the DBTs are. The title is not arrogant or self-promoting, just a very accurate description of America’s Band. They ARE blue collar. Writing and singing about every day issues. A working band. They make a living, but I dare say they are rich. Their income is almost entirely derived by album sales, swag, and touring. That is the cornerstone of America right there.
This is their 11th full length studio release. You wouldn’t expect a band that had 10 studio albums under their belt to still release material that is fresh and as good as earlier albums. But the DBTs have been exceeding expectations for years. This album is a perfect example. This release is the band’s most overtly political album. The song writing is more poignant and direct. There is little left to the imagination as far as which side of the issue the DBTs are standing on. Having said that, the songs do not come off preachy or self-righteous.
I am usually thinking of things to write, but in this case I have to hold back a little. I have espoused the virtues of the DBTs and I have barely described the album. So let’s get to it, shall we? Track 1, Ramon Casiano, is a classic in the making. Written and sung by Mike Cooley, one of the DBT’s front men. The music is catchy and Cooley-esque, but covers a lot of new ground. This song is about a killing that took place in Laredo, Texas in 1931. Ramon Casiano was killed by Harlon Carter. Carter was acquitted of any wrongdoing, claiming self-defense. Although, it did not appear that Carter was in any danger. Carter later became a board member of the NRA. Cooley’s words are every bit as good as Dylan in his prime:
“It all started with the border,
And that’s still where it is today,
Someone killed Ramon Casiano,
And the killer got away.”
It goes on to discuss Carter’s alleged corruption as a border patrol agent and then onto the board of the NRA. The song deals with xenophobia as an excuse for guns and killing:
“But killin’s been the bullet’s business,
Since back in 1931,
Someone killed Ramon Casiano,
And Ramon still ain’t dead enough.”
I have listened to that verse over and over, awestruck at how powerful those sentiments are. If I went on to discuss all of the highlights of this album, this review would become a paperback novel and nobody wants that. The other song I will mention is a song called Baggage (Track 11). It is a Patterson Hood song that discusses the suicide of Robin Williams and Hood lamenting about his own battles with depression. It is another powerful ballad and rivals the writing of his counterpart, Mike Cooley.
I recommend a strong buy on this one. You can order the album here and listen to the entire album. You can even get colored vinyl while supplies last!