Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Drive-By Truckers: Decoration Day [New West, 2003]
First six songs are perfect--incest, elopement, foreclosure, and "Hell No, I Ain't Happy" from main man Patterson Hood, Stones song of a bitterness that passeth superstar understanding from second banana Mike Cooley, and young Jason Isbell hitting the road with his dad's blessing: "Have fun but stay clear of the needle/Call home on your sister's birthday/Don't tell them you're bigger than Jesus/Don't give it away." Without fussing over bridges and such, they treat their job like a calling--verses are packed with stories they need to tell and choruses ring out with why. The intensity wanes as they mull two suicides and several busted marriages, at least until a hard-rocking dirge about a feud brings the title into focus. But throughout they succeed in rendering Southern gothic as social realism. Somebody tell Charlie Watts jazz is for hobbyists. A-