Let’s all celebrate that the winter doldrums are (nearly) over and we can once again peel off those layers of extra padding and expose ourselves to the two best things about riding motorcycles: the sun and a warm breeze. With the smell of 20w-50 wafting up from our engines, all we need now is an open highway and some warm weather tuneage—a little background music to make the miles even more fun. Where else but on a bike can we unleash ourselves from our cages and experience the personal relaxation that comes from…loud noise? Our brethren in cars may look at us funny when we come roaring by, stymied by the fact one can derive so much pleasure from so much cacophony. If they don’t ride motorcycles, they just don’t get it. What’s noise to some is pure enjoyment to others. To which we say, in borrowing a phrase from the band Slade, c’mon feel the noise…
The Big To-Do
A transplanted southerner, I can relate to the baggage that comes with being from the South. Maybe it’s a generational thing. It’s certainly not about politics or any particular social or cultural belief. It’s about the fact that there are certain stereotypes and historical crimes that are hard to dismiss. No matter. Once one gets past the Johnny Reb thing, there are several qualities that unite southerners everywhere, one of which is that we know how to party hearty.
If this were the ’70s, southern born-and-bred Drive-By Truckers (DBT) might be just another Lynyrd Skynrd, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (with whom they’ve toured), or Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Imagine “Southern Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” No doubt, DBT are a product of the South. But they are also a contradiction, refusing to be just another clichéd southern rock band. While their music ought to be sold in roadside tourist stands, DBT have a lot more depth, the themes are well thought out with ambitious song construction. Since their 1998 debut album, Gangstabilly, they underwent a slight personnel adjustment and even switched labels a few times, all for the better. Their 1999 masterpiece Southern Rock Opera, was part history thesis and part advancing the cause of Southern rock as a separate genre.
The Big To-Do, released in 2010 sets out to dispel their “Southern rock” label. It uses the circus (a la Bruce Springsteen) as a metaphor for portraying everyday life and characters in the modern world. It certainly works as motorcycle music, given DBT’s frequent references to the road and their full-throttle three-guitar attack mode. The lyrics will resonate for those given to personal introspection (while riding, don’t we all?). Needless to say, the songwriting, a collaborative effort led mainly by the band’s Patterson Hood, is light years beyond most of the crap that passes as country and rock these days. DBT have been called the best of “alt-country,” but that’s a slight—they are actually one of the best bands out there period.
Their latest album, Go-Go Boots may be less fussy (in a good way), with more of an emphasis on acoustic instrumentation. Shonna Tucker in particular lends even more of a presence and some of the same themes from previous albums are given a reprise. To really get a sense of this band, it’s important to spend some time on the road with their music. In solitude, it all makes even more sense. If they come to a town near you, get on your bike and ride fast to see them.
Diamonds in the Dirt
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Diamonds in the Dirt is Joanne Taylor Shaw’s second album, but already she has eclipsed many of her contemporaries. There’s something about white girls slinging on an electric guitar and singing the blues. Few have ever actually pulled it off, with the notable exceptions being Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. But hell, Ms. Shaw hails from England, which is a long way from Gus’ Fried Chicken in Memphis. No matter, this woman cooks with grease like it’s nobody’s business. One almost suspects that somewhere along the way, she was kidnapped for a few years by blues veterans and forced to play the blues.
Producer Jim Gaines (Jonny Lang, Luther Allison, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana) does an A+ job of letting her guitar blaze away—I mean, the girl can play! All she needs is some better songs to work with, but don’t let that keep you from taking this lady, er CD, for a ride. Dial up the volume a bit and you’ll want to play air guitar along with her – which we definitely wouldn’t recommend on a bike. We’re anxiously awaiting her next album, because we know there are a few great ones comin’.