Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans [ATO, 2014]
Mike Cooley has always been a more facile singer and tunesmith than Patterson Hood. But facile implies that things come easy for him, and Cooley has never written enough to sustain that illusion until this album, where the leaders of the world's smartest boogie band split thirteen tracks smack down the middle. Two hymns to a caring fatalism bookend pained descriptions of simple men who believe clever bumper stickers and the piece of shit they vote for, of marriages too tragic for cheating songs because their ends are not in sight: the relaxed, acerbic Cooley lead "Shit Shots Count" ("The boss ain't as smart as you'd like him to be/But he ain't near as dumb as you think") and the pained, oncycling Hood elegy "Grand Canyon" ("I'm never one to wonder about the things beyond control"). But pervading it all is a musical ease that's on Cooley--a groove and feel that accomplishes a provisional and uncomplacent peace for a band eternally grateful that the highway still rolls. A