Spread between Athens, Georgia, and Birmingham and Center Star, Alabama, Drive-By Truckers — Patterson Hood (vocals, guitar), Mike Cooley (vocals, guitar), Jason Isbell (guitar, vocals), Earl "Bird Dog" Hicks (bass), and Brad Morgan (drums) — have all the makings of an alt-country outfit. But this band have grander ambitions than simply meeting the needs of a narrowly defined subgenre. Their previous album, Southern Rock Opera (Lost Highway/Universal), was a cohesive two-CD song cycle bolstered by the band’s very Southern three-guitar attack. Decoration Day sets aside the concept-album approach to deliver a collection of haunting, spirited songs filled with equal amounts pang and twang. Whether bucking like Neil Young’s Crazy Horse or plaintively picking out a pedal-steel riff, the Truckers cast a literate eye on the universal issues of living, dying, and, most of all, trying. Ragged rebel yells echo through the threshing Farm Aid anthem "Sink Hole," the chugging rocky groove of "Do It Yourself," and the Eagles-meet-the-Stones swagger of "Marry Me," while "Heathens," "Sounds Better in the Song," and "Give Pretty Soon" form a triptych about a relationship on the rocks. In "My Sweet Annette," the singer finds himself abandoned at the altar, and "Your Daddy Hates Me" delves into divorce. Overall, Decoration Day is defined by the Truckers’ blunt encounters with heartbreak. Most touching, however, is Jason Isbell’s "Outfit," a tale of a father handing a life of learning down to his son.
(Drive-By Truckers play the Paradise this Friday, June 20. Call 617-562-8800.)