The Dirty South is the fifth album by Alabamian alternative country/Southern rock group Drive-By Truckers, released in 2004. The Dirty South is Drive-By Truckers’ second concept album. Like its predecessor, Southern Rock Opera, the album examines the state of the South, and unveils the hypocrisy, irony, and tragedy that continues to exist.
“Where The Devil Don’t Stay” was inspired by a poem by Mike Cooley’s uncle Ed Cooley, and was recorded in one take.
Patterson Hood’s “Tornadoes” was originally written in 1988 in reaction to the closing concert for the Adam’s House Cat Nightmare Tour. The Nightmare Tour set list was composed almost exclusively of songs containing metaphors or imagery of trains, but the lack of the tour’s success forced Hood and his band to abandon the concept and start afresh. Hood read an eyewitness account of the tornado in the local paper the next day and wrote “Tornadoes” after reading her statement that “it sounded like a train.”
Isbell’s “The Day John Henry Died,” retells the story of John Henry.
“Puttin’ People on the Moon”, written by Hood, tells the story of a town downriver of Huntsville and their “rocket envy” or economic depression due to the negative environmental and economic effects of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Mike Cooley’s “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” recounts the celebrated Sun Records, Sam Phillips, and the music industry in general.
“The Sands of Iwo Jima” recounts Hood’s experiences with his great uncle while growing up in North Alabama. Questioning the veracity of the movie, his uncle answers he never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima.
Isbell’s second track on the album, “Danko/Manuel,” is a departure from the usual southern gothic lyrical style written by Cooley and Hood. Originally Isbell tried to tell the story of Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and The Band’s demise, but found the scope of the concept too difficult to actually do justice to their story, and instead shifted the concept to a telling of life of a musician through the eyes and actions of Danko and Manuel. Isbell stated that the horn parts for the song came to him in a dream.
“The Dirty South” contains a three song suite (“The Boys From Alabama,” “Cottonseed” and “The Buford Stick”) about Sheriff Buford Pusser. “The Boys From Alabama” was inspired by the misconceptions and “really bad movies” of the Redneck Mafia and recounts the movie “Walking Tall”‘ from a “different point of view.” Hood felt that telling the story from “the bad guy’s” point of view would be more interesting. Cooley’s “Cottonseed” tells a story of corruption, crime, killing, greed, fixed elections, guns, drugs, prostitution and alcohol and uses subtle imagery to provide a very negative interpretation of Pusser. Hood’s “The Buford Stick” completes the suite by providing examples of the negative effects of Pusser’s actions while offering a less glorified view of the mythology surrounding Pusser.
Cooley’s last song on the album is a story about a father who instills a love of racing in his son. “Daddy’s Cup” is the only song on “The Dirty South” that does not revolve around a negative experience, instead offering a lighter touch to the overall dirty feel of the album.
Isbell has explained that “Never Gonna Change” is simply about a stubborn North Alabama man who “refuses to live in fear,” which Isbell goes on to explain are rather rare.
“Lookout Mountain” was written around 1990 by Hood, and can be heard in its original incarnation on Adam’s House Cat’s LP Town Burned Down. It was a last minute addition to the album, beating out another Hood song entitled “Goode’s Field Road.” “Goode’s Field Road” was eventually rerecorded for 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, however the cut that was dropped from The Dirty South managed to see the light of day on The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities. The version as it appears on The Dirty South was recorded in one take.
The Dirty South ends with Isbell’s “Goddamn Lonely Love.” Though described by Isbell as a love song, “Goddamn Lonely Love” heavily and painfully delves into the loneliness associated with love. Isbell wrote the song for Shonna Tucker. (by wikipedia)
When you’ve named your band the Drive-By Truckers and your first three albums are called Pizza Deliverance, Gangstabilly, and Alabama Ass Whuppin’, you might have a hard time at first convincing folks that you aren’t joking. But the Drive-By Truckers proved that they were most definitely not kidding with 2001’s brilliant double-disc Southern Rock Opera, and 2003’s Decoration Day actually upped the ante on what might have been a fluke masterpiece with its dark and thoroughly absorbing chronicle of hard times in the American South. With The Dirty South, the DBTs have crafted an equally effective companion piece to Decoration Day that plays on the gangsta rap reference of its title with a set of vividly rendered portraits of life along the margins of respectability below the Mason-Dixon line, from laid-off factory rats dealing drugs to feed their kids to Alabama gangsters determined to shut down the cops who made their daughters cry. From the first low, metallic stomps from Brad Morgan’s kick drum on “Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” it’s clear that The Dirty South isn’t going to be a good-time party most of the way, and while there are some brilliant anthemic rockers on this album (most notably “The Day John Henry Died,” “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” and “Never Gonna Change”), and Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Jason Isbell have grown into a force to be reckoned with as both guitarists and songwriters, there’s more than a little blood, fear, doubt, shame, and simple human tragedy at the heart of these stories.
While much of America might be laughing at “You might be a redneck…” jokes, the Drive-By Truckers aren’t about to let anyone forget the harsh truth behind growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in this country, and the tough, muscular force of their music only sharpens the bite of their stories. They can also turn down the amps and still hit you in the heart, especially on “Danko/Manuel” and “Daddy’s Cup,” and David Barbe’s production gives this band the full-bodied clarity they’ve always deserved. Believe it — the Drive-By Truckers are the best, smartest, and most soulful hard rock band to emerge in a very long time, and while The Dirty South isn’t always good for laughs, it has too many great stories and too much fierce, passionate rock & roll for anyone who cares about such things to dare pass it up. (by Mark Deming)
Mike Cooley (vocals, guitar, banjo on 06. + 08., harmonica on 06.)
Patterson Hood (vocals, guitar, piano on 02 – 14.)
Jason Isbell (vocals, (guitar, piano on 02., 07. + 08. organ on 14., mellotron on 07.)
Brad Morgan (drums, percussion)
Shonna Tucker (bass, background vocals)
David Barbe (piano on 04., 06., organ on 08, background vocals on 13.)
Clay Leverett (background vocals on 02.)
The Minor Hill Singers (background vocals on 01.):
Jason Isbell – Kimberly Morgan – Shonna Tucker
The State Line Chain Gang (percussion 08.)
01. Where The Devil Don’t Stay (Cooley) 5.18
02. Tornadoes (Hood) 4.13
03. The Day John Henry Died (Isbell) 3.46
04. “Puttin’ People on the Moon” Patterson Hood 4:55
05. Carl Perkins’ Cadillac (Cooley) 5.24
06. The Sands Of Iwo Jima (Hood) 4.10
07. Danko/Manuel (Isbell) 5.43
08. The Boys From Alabama (Hood) 4.24
09. Cottonseed (Cooley) 6.20
10. The Buford Stick (Hood) 4.40
11. Daddy’s Cup (Cooley) 5.53
12. Never Gonna Change (Isbell) 5.23
13. Lookout Mountain (Hood) 5.00
14. Goddamn Lonely Love (Isbell) 4.55