At Merriweather - Bob Dylan and his Band
Drive-By Truckers, Leon Russell
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, Maryland, 21044
At Merriweather - Bob Dylan and his Band
Bob Dylan’s career has lasted the better part of fifty years now. That’s pretty remarkable. What is more impressive is that Dylan has remained not only active for almost all of that period, but controversial. He has never gotten by on sentimentality or nostalgia. He has never repeated his successes. For better or for worse, Dylan has always pushed his work ahead.
Bob Dylan is as great a songwriter – ah, let’s not beat around the bush – as great an artist as America has produced. But he’d be the first to tell you that he is part of a long line, one link in an endless chain. You can follow his influence backward or forward according to your own inclination. Or you can spend a long time just listening to Dylan’s five decades of contributions. Wherever you go into it, and whatever you get out of it, your time will be well spent - Bill Flanagan - New York, 2007
Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Brad Morgan, Jay Gonzalez, Matt Patton
English Oceans, the 12th release by Athens, Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers, is an elegantly
balanced and deeply engaged new effort that finds the group refreshed and firing on all cylinders.
All but one of the collection’s 13 new songs, written by singer-guitarists and co-founding
members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, were recorded during 13 days of sessions in August
2013 with longtime producer David Barbe.
Six of the songs were the result of a burst of writing activity by Cooley.
“I had time to write,” Cooley says. “After we came off the road last time, we decided we
were going to let it rest for a while. So I had time to really focus. I kind of had to re-learn how to
write, because I didn’t write as many songs as I’d wanted on the last couple of records. I was
happy with these songs, and thrilled to go in and record so many that I felt real strongly about.”
Hood notes, “I don’t think we’ve ever had a record where Cooley was as deeply involved
in every aspect of the making of it as he was this time. With Cooley’s writing, there’s almost no
precedent for it in our catalog. He came in with this stunning bunch of songs, full of this
Writing independently, Cooley and Hood penned songs that dovetailed brilliantly with
each other. Hood says, “Every song on this record connects with another song. I noticed
Cooley’s got a line in ‘Primer Coat’ about ‘apron strings,’ and I have the exact same image in
one of my songs, ‘Hanging On.’ It goes on and on and on like that on this record, and that’s a
pretty good sign for things, particularly given how different our temperaments are and our styles
of writing are.”
Cooley and Hood’s brace of character-based songs depict a neatly interlocking gallery of
relationships, often in dissolution and discord. The last song written and recorded for the album,
Hood’s rave-up “Pauline Hawkins,” was based on a new novel by Willy Vlautin and penned
after another of his compositions was scrapped.
Hood says, “There was such a balance between Cooley’s songs and my songs that taking
a song off the record would upset the balance a little bit. I liked the back-and-forth flow, like our
shows tend to do. I got an advance copy of Willy’s latest book, The Free. I’ve been a fan of his
writing for a while. I read it in about three days. I finished it on Saturday, I wrote the song on
Sunday, and then we cut it on Thursday and mastered the record on the following Monday. It
sure makes it a better record.”
DBT’s ever-keen political edge can be seen in two songs on the release. Cooley’s “Made
Up English Oceans” derives from his interest in the career of Lee Atwater, the Republican
operative who was active in the Reagan and Bush campaigns of the ‘80s. “He was the guy that
Karl Rove and all of the modern dirty tricksters looked to – he was one of the granddaddies of it
all. That song is from his point of view, fictionally of course. It’s him making his pitch, telling
what he understands about young, Southern men.”
Hood says “The Part of Him” was inspired by the procession of scandals that plague the
political world year after year. “It’s about political assholery — there’s someone new playing that
role every few months,” he says. “As soon as we get rid of one of them, someone comes up and
starts playing that part again.”
Reflecting the renewed high level of collaboration between the band’s two principals,
English Oceans marks an unprecedented event: the recording of a Hood song, “Til He’s Dead or
Rises,” with Cooley assuming the lead vocal.
Cooley says, “I remember Patterson was getting frustrated trying to sing it. He was doing
fine, but it seemed like there was something he wanted to do that wasn’t coming. I was in the
control room thinking, ‘I could probably sing this’ — though it wasn’t like I was saying, ‘Oh, I
can sing this a lot better than that.’ I was thinking, ‘This sounds like something I could sing.’
Right after that, he walks into the control room and says, ‘You want to trying singing this? It
sounds more like you than me.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I was just thinking that.’”
“Grand Canyon,” the final song on the album, is an emotionally overwhelming elegy for
Craig Lieske, a longtime member of DBT’s touring family. The former manager of Athens’ 40
Watt Club and a key player in the city’s experimental music scene, Lieske died suddenly of a
heart attack in January 2013 following the first night of the band’s three-night homecoming stand
in Athens. English Oceans is dedicated to him.
“I probably wrote it in 15 minutes,” Hood says. “It wasn’t any kind of a conscious thing.
It’s the most important song of mine on the record. I wrote new songs to go with it. It
recalibrated something. It became a totally different record for me than the record I thought we
were going to make.”
The album was recorded with a compact, retooled lineup. Jay Gonzalez, who joined the
band in 2008 as keyboardist, stepped into an expanded role by adding guitar to his duties, while
bassist Matt Patton was drafted from the Tuscaloosa group The Dexateens. The unit was roadtested
during dates in 2013.
Cooley says, “This lineup is so direct. It can go from this chainsaw rock ‘n’ roll to very
delicate, pretty-sounding stuff.” We wrote a lot of those kinds of songs, and this lineup got all of
Hood agrees: “We recorded with a stripped-down lineup that gave things a more primal
and immediate feel. It’s a more turn-on-a-dime kind of thing, which suits these songs, and us as a
band. It’s a very tasteful group, and when it needs to be it can be a very big, powerful, over-thetop
band, too, and it can go from one to the other seamlessly.”
Looking at the accomplishments of English Oceans from the perspective of DBT’s nearly
three-decade history, both Cooley and Hood decline to hedge their bets on the quality of their
“You’re always hesitant to say, ‘Oh, this is the best record we’ve ever made,’” Cooley
says, “because you always want to. And sometimes you say it, and sometimes you’re right, and
sometimes you think, ‘Well, maybe I jumped the gun on that a little bit, I got excited.’ But I
think this just might be the best record we’ve ever made.”
Hood concurs enthusiastically: “It’s my favorite thing that we’ve ever done. I’m proud of
our catalog – we always try to make as good a record as we can make. Sometimes things just
work. This time, we made kind of a magical record. I’ve always felt that Decoration Day was
our best record, and this is the first one that I think is a better record than that was. Every piece
of the puzzle fit.”
"The ultimate rock & roll session man, Leon Russell's long and storied career includes collaborations with a virtual who's who of music icons spanning from Jerry Lee Lewis to Phil Spector to the Rolling Stones. A similar eclecticism and scope also surfaced in his solo work, which couched his charmingly gravelly voice in a rustic yet rich swamp pop fusion of country, blues, and gospel. Born Claude Russell Bridges on April 2, 1942, in Lawton, OK, he began studying classical piano at age three, a decade later adopting the trumpet and forming his first band. At 14, Russell lied about his age to land a gig at a Tulsa nightclub, playing behind Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks before touring in support of Jerry Lee Lewis. Two years later, he settled in Los Angeles, studying guitar under the legendary James Burton and appearing on sessions with Dorsey Burnette and Glen Campbell. As a member of Spector's renowned studio group, Russell played on many of the finest pop singles of the 1960s, also arranging classics like Ike & Tina Turner's monumental "River Deep, Mountain High"; other hits bearing his input include the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," Gary Lewis & the Playboys' "This Diamond Ring," and Herb Alpert's "A Taste of Honey."
In 1967, Russell built his own recording studio, teaming with guitarist Marc Benno to record the acclaimed Look Inside the Asylum Choir LP. While touring with Delaney & Bonnie, he scored his first songwriting hit with Joe Cocker's reading of "Delta Lady," and in 1970, upon founding his own Shelter Records imprint, he also organized Cocker's legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. After the subsequent tour film earned Russell his first real mainstream notoriety, he issued a self-titled solo LP, and in 1971 appeared at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh following sessions for B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan. After touring with the Rolling Stones, Russell increasingly focused on his solo career, reaching the number two spot with 1972's Carney and scoring his first pop hit with the single "Tight Rope." While the success of 1973's three-LP set Leon Live further established his reputation as a top concert draw, response to the country-inspired studio effort Hank Wilson's Back was considerably more lukewarm, as was the reception afforded to 1974's Stop All That Jazz. 1975's Will O' the Wisp, however, restored his commercial luster, thanks in large part to the lovely single "Lady Blue."
In June of 1975, Russell married singer Mary McCreary; the following year the couple collaborated on The Wedding Album, issued through his newly formed Paradise Records label. Also in 1976, the Russell-penned "This Masquerade" earned a Grammy Award for singer George Benson. He and McCreary reunited for 1977's Make Love to the Music, and upon completing the solo Americana, Russell teamed with Willie Nelson for 1979's Willie & Leon. He then spent the next two years touring with his bluegrass band, the New Grass Revival, issuing a live LP in 1981; although Paradise shut down later that year, the label was reactivated for 1984's Hank Wilson, Vol. 2 and Solid State. Russell spent the remainder of the decade largely outside of music and did not resurface until issuing the Bruce Hornsby-produced Anything Can Happen in 1992. The album appeared to little fanfare, however, and another long period of relative inactivity followed prior to the 1998 release of Hank Wilson, Vol. 3: Legend in My Time. Face in the Crowd appeared a year later. Moving into the new century, Russell issued Moonlight & Love Songs, an album of cover songs, in 2002, followed by Angel in Disguise five years later in 2007. A trio of releases, Almost Piano, Bad Country, and In Your Dreams, appeared in 2008." - Jason Ankeny, AllMusicGuide