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Drive-By Truckers 

Decoration Day

Wednesday, Aug 13 2003
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There's that story you hear every couple of years about how for this or that record a band moves into a haunted mansion in Tennessee or the Hollywood hills, sets up some tape machines, microphones, and an assortment of percussive instruments in the basement, and attempts to construct an opus that sounds like the secluded habitat it was produced in. With the right band, the result can be a collection of songs that conjures images of bourbon, facial hair, and blond girls in Daisy Dukes. Sometimes Liz Phair even makes a record in response -- her Exile in Guyville is a song-by-song answer to the Stones' Exile on Main Street, perhaps the most famous band-moves-into-a-mansion recording.

On Decoration Day, the Drive-By Truckers have pulled off that precise mood, although it's likely the quintet's recording process lacked the Stones-worthy setting (well, except for maybe the bourbon and facial hair). With all its pedal steel and lyrics about "Momma," it's hard to imagine this record being made anywhere else but nowhere: Drums beat out rhythms as sturdy as train tracks while bass guitars lope along like line dancers; shiny guitars jump rope with drawl-inflected vocals that sound straight out of the sticks; harmonies waft like clothesline laundry; Frigidaires, Mustangs, and Jesus are mentioned. As the record's five-man musical missives give way to solo acoustic confessionals, its consistent bucolic ethos remains as comforting as a pair of decade-old overalls.

The album seems to take off about four songs in (fittingly enough, with the very Stones-ey "Marry Me"), which makes it seem less like a Drive-By and more like a crawl. However, once it hits, Decoration Day is a record that sounds like a wooden house in Kansas, like the echo of a snare drum pinging off of dried, fallen pines, like Jagger and Richards on moonshine. And that makes for some mansion-basement stuff indeed.

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Abigail Clouseau

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