Album: Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West)

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The Independent Culture

It's been less celebrated than other, shinier trends in pop, but the last couple of years have seen a revival of the kind of storyteller-rock with which Bruce Springsteen once dominated American pop culture. Bands such as Richmond Fontaine and The Hold Steady have a wordy, narrative-based approach, combined with a dirty-realist worldview whose roots seem to lie in the downbeat nihilism of Nebraska, albeit given a healthy shot, in The Hold Steady's case, of youthful energy.

Click the arrow to listen to a clip of Drive By Truckers' track '3 Dimes Down', taken from the album.

Since their earliest incarnation as a kind of college-educated Southern boogie band, Drive-By Truckers have striven to bring a certain literate intelligence to a form once considered mindlessly utilitarian. On Brighter Than Creation's Dark, they make the most convincing case yet for Southern rock's rehabilitation. They seem fired-up and inspired in so many directions here, from the pert country shuffle of "Perfect Timing" and bar-band raunch of "3 Dimes Down" to the haunting "The Purgatory Line", with its cavernous ambient drone illuminated by tiny sounds. "That Man I Shot" is a splendid piece of declamatory guitar rock in the Neil Young manner, while the heroic blue-collar spirit of Springsteen infuses the anthemic, questing "The Righteous Path".

But it's songwriter Patterson Hood's lyrical approach that is the Truckers' most appealing facet, whether offering a straightforward, non-judgemental portrait of a loner in "Bob", or reflecting in "Monument Valley" on John Ford's psycho-geographical employment of that iconic landscape. His touch is appealingly idiosyncratic: I like the description, in "The Opening Act", of a tumbling mechanical-bull rider as an "urban bovine Knievel", a term that evokes all the ungainliness, misplaced courage and pathetic ambition of the rider.

Crime stalks these tableaux, with the ghostly protagonist of "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" confused by his own death and wondering whether there's "vengeance in heaven". Hood is aware of the shifting nature of morality and desire and reluctant to cast blame, even in "You and Your Crystal Meth", where the obvious disapproval is undermined by an acknowledgement of shared fallibility. As he admits in "3 Dimes Down", "all it took was luck not to get caught". The most winning proclamation, and acceptance, of Hood's own failings comes in "Perfect Timing" in the sardonic admission: "I used to hate the fool in me, but only in the morning/ Now I tolerate him all day long". Who doesn't know what he means?

Download this: 'That Man I Shot', '3 Dimes Down', 'The Righteous Path', 'Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife', 'Perfect Timing'