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4.5 out of 5 stars
English Oceans
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2014
Format: Audio CD
This is the best Drive-By Truckers album in years. In fact, it's easily the finest since their masterpiece, Southern Rock Opera. This sounds like quite a claim, of course, and who can blame anyone who doesn't quite trust it. I wouldn't. But do yourself a favor and listen to the song samples. You'll recognize immediately that this album is something special. Suddenly, the group doesn't seem as if it is missing Jason Isbell. In fact, as fine a musician as Isbell is, and as impressive as his solo work has become, he would only get in the way here, for this album needs no straight man, no middle ground. Hood and Cooley are in fine form, managing a nice balance of wit and weight, pathos and pleasure. Cooley exudes his usual folksy, knowing charm, Hood his high-pitched angst. Yet none of the tracks ever gets bogged down in heavy-handed philosophizing; none of the songs feel self-indulgent or labored or painfully, maddeningly slow, as they were on so much of Go-Go Boots. Foremost, this is a real album, not just a haphazard collection of songs. It moves fluidly from track to track, and every last one of them rocks. This marks an important point in the Drive-By Truckers story--the album in which the new, leaner version of the band finally found its groove. This album will not disappoint.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2014
Format: Audio CD
Whilst some bands mellow with age Alabama's best and brightest, the Drive by Truckers, are not ready yet to contemplate lazy days sitting on the porch. On this 12th album "English Oceans" their renewed promise of another blast of rock n roll raises the question when have they ever not been straining the volume control on Marshall amps. The USP of this album is for the first time a split in the songwriting duties between the great Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. The latter's creative juices had dried up for a while but this 50/50 outcome showcases two great songwriters entirely capable of making you forget that Jason Isbell was once in the band.

The album is full of great kicking rockers like the opening track "S*** Shot Counts", "When He is Gone" and "Hearing Jimmy Loud". In terms of the bands explosive live act they all will pin the audience to the wall at the back of the theatre. As ever though it is when you head towards the more Americana based rootsy DBTs where the real rewards are to be located. Thus the excellent title track "Made up English Oceans" has a backbeat like rawhide and lyrics which attack Republican values; a perennial target of Cooley and Co. The same singers vocal snarl is well employed on Hood's "Till he's dead or rising" a sub Stones mid paced rocker showing that perhaps Jagger and Richards would be well advised to pick up the phone and call both of them. Hood matches this on the swagger of "Natural Light" a slow blues song which witnesses some of his best singing in years, while the shuffling alt country of "First Day of Autumn" is stunning.

Perhaps the songs which may have the longest shelf life are both Cooley's. Firstly the slow acoustic ballad "Holding On" a track that trawls his darkest thoughts, while the great closer "Grand Canyon" stretching to nearly eight minutes is the band at its best dedicating a song to Craig Lieske known affectionately by as "Graytoven" who sadly died last year at the age of 46 from an heart attack. He was the bands merchandise specialist and often jointed them on stage. The tribute culminates with the poignant line "In my dreams I still can see you/Flying through a western sky/And I think about Grand Canyon/I lift my glass and smile"

"English Oceans" is yet again an effortless and brilliant album by one of the American best bands of the past two decades. If you are new to them you can very profitably start here. If that also means you have yet to hear either the "Dirty South" or the "Southern Rock Opera" this reviewers envy is deepest green.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2014
Format: Audio CD
Wow! That's what I thought upon listening to the latest DBT album. After 3 years and another lineup change, the Truckers are back with an excellent entry into their catalog. Heavy on Cooley (which is always a good thing), this album hits most of the right notes. The subtraction of John Neff and Shonna Tucker and the addition of Matt Patton on bass has only made this band that much tighter. No more soap operas - just rock.

While Patterson Hood has less song writing credits on this one (devout Patterson fans should look to his superb 2012 solo album Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance) Mike Cooley is in the driver's seat and does not disappoint. From the super-charged album opener " S*** Shots Count" with his smart, edgy lyrics to "Hearing Jimmy Loud", Cooley is in peak form. 'Trophy tail wives taking boner pill rides for the price of a happy meal' - priceless.

Hood is in the backseat for this one, but not by much. "Pauline Hawkins" and "When Walter Went Crazy" with classic Hood story-telling should appease longtime Patterson fans. Don't forget the soaring album closer "Grand Canyon" - Patterson's tribute to Craig Lieske.

Great music all over the place. Way different feel than the past couple of albums and the contributions from keyboardist Jay Gonzalez and bassist Matt Patton stand out. 'DBT 12' as Patterson calls this version of the band in the liner notes to put it simply, just rocks. DBT!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2014
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
While DBT haven't made a bad album, they haven't made a great one since Dirty South. Part of that, IMO, is that essentially Shonna Tucker replaced Jason Isbell as the third singer/songwriter. I don't have anything against Shonna, but her songs and style just don't blend seamlessly with the rest of a DBT album. I thought her stuff worked pretty well on Brighter Than Creation's Dark, due to the sprawling, looser feel of the album, but not the others since.

This album gets back to what DBT did (and does) best. Cooley and Patterson trading songs, with Cooley doing a bit more than his usual load (which is a good thing). If anything, Cooley has become wittier and stronger overall as the years have passed, while Patterson is still good but has lost a step since his glory days of Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2014
Format: Audio CD
This album gets better every time I hear it. DBT nailed it. I probably wouldn't put it in contention for unseating any of their top 3 (Decoration Day, Dirty South, SRO), but it's easily the best after those. The new smaller lineup is tight and the band sounds revived. Every piece fits and there's nothing superfluous. Gonzalez has a bigger presence on this one, which is nice. The music has more texture than the last couple of albums, and in regard to song arrangement, this one stands alone. Beyond that, it's everything you'd expect from DBT---thoughtful lyrics from Hood and Cooley spanning a range of emotions, and Cooley has his share of witty gems. Definitely worth the money. Most bands don't release 12 albums, and fewer still can put out something this inspired after being together so long. It's a slightly different sound and a new direction. DBT kept the familiarities that got them where they are, but showed us they still have something to say.

I was happy to see they kept Matt Patton. I saw them over the summer "down in Birmingham" with him on bass. He's fantastic & brings a lot of energy to the stage.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2014
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
The new DBT is the first in awhile with a 50/50 split between the band's two singer-songwriters. Mike Cooley steps up with six songs to Patterson Hood's seven, and sings one of Hood's songs. They continue with earthy tales of the struggles and foibles of the working class, conveying compassion and a clearly left-of-center perspective that could not be more welcome given the current efforts in the South to deny health care to the poor.

The album opens strong with three great songs -- Cooley's "S*** Shots Count" and perhaps my favorite, "Primer Coat," sandwiching Hood's "When He's Gone." The closing is another three strong songs -- Hood's poignant "When Walter Went Crazy," followed by Cooley's lovely "First Air of Autumn" about getting older, and concluding with Hood's "Grand Canyon," a moving tribute to Craig Lieske, a long-time member of the band's crew who recently died. The entire album is dedicated to his memory.

The middle section is not all up to the same standard. Cooley's "Hearing Jimmy Loud" is a great rocker, one of the best songs on the album. Hood's "Hanging On" and Cooley's "Natural Light" are both fine if lesser songs, expressing tenderness and a relationship grown distant. The Hood song that Cooley sings is weak -- "Til He's Dead or Rises."

The two most political songs, back to back, both fall short for contrasting reasons. Hood's "The Part of Him" is a sketch of an amoral, ambitious politician that is too obvious and simple to be effective. On the other hand Cooley's "Made Up English Oceans" is a cryptic monologue that is apparently, based on reviews I've read, supposed to be the infamous GOP operative Lee Atwater. While the narrator's contemptuous attitude is clear, and the target is clear -- the manipulation of "low information" voters using male pride and religion -- crucial specifics are opaque:

"6X9 and counting down in one after the other
they'll go running up and down the road, angry as their mothers
over senseless acts of selfishness on made up English oceans
and made up English stomach contents tied to senseless notions"

What does this mean? The image used as the title of the song and the album makes no sense to me -- a senseless notion? In the end, though, both songs are also weak musically, and so there is little to compensate for the problems with the lyrics.

If you compare the photo of the current band in the CD foldout to the photo in the CD foldout of "Decoration Day" from 2003 one of the biggest changes is obvious -- "English Oceans" is the expression of older and wiser men, now with families. The happy-go-lucky smiles have been replaced with pensive concern. They grieve for the friend they've lost, they have a care in the world. Though the basic framework and content remains the same, the attitude has changed.

It works just fine, because the DBT was never just a good-time band. They've always written serious lyrics addressing social problems. They still rock as before, but the edge of anger and indignation has seemingly been partly replaced by resignation and stoicism.

I missed the Athens kickoff of the current tour, but I'm hoping they swing back through Atlanta before they finish!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2014
Format: MP3 MusicVerified Purchase
I have been a big DBT fan for a while now and I have to say I think this is their best yet and I also have to say I think the reason is because the album is dominated by Mike Cooley. Just my opinion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2014
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
This is the most solid and consistent effort since "Dirty South". Although "Go Go Boots" grew on me and had a few outstanding tunes, it, like most others, was undermined by the inclusion of Shonna Tucker's songs. I hate to diss her, but her songs always reminded me of throw ins and often disrupted whatever flow the album might have. I am sorry Shonna. This album has a much more fluid feel to it and rolls right along with great story telling and rock and roll. Patterson's solo album "Heat Lightning" remains one of my favorite albums of the past couple years and "English Oceans" is definitely a step in the right direction for the Truckers. They are one of the few bands that I always check out and I recommend this album to anyone looking for a good songwriter/ R&R experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2014
Format: VinylVerified Purchase
I have loved this group for years. I love the fact that they tell wonderful stories, many kind of sad and depressing but they do it in a way that grabs your attention and gives you a hook that makes you hit repeat. I am not going to explain each song because a) who wants to type that much and B) it is just my opinion. Hit the samples and listen for yourself. I did I worried when Jason Isbell left I may not like the group as much. I was so happy that I was wrong. Nothing has changed. They still make quality intelligent southern rock. Trust me on this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2014
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Add one to the believers that this is their best since Dirty South. The last few albums each had a mix of great songs and clunkers (partly because I never met a Shonna song that I liked). I've been listening to English Oceans on heavy rotation for a couple months and there are no tracks that I skip. Natural Light might be my favorite. Classic Cooley.
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