Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do (ATO)
The son of a Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bass player, Truckers lead songwriter Patterson Hood is steeped in the tradition of great Southern pop. Unlike his dad’s music, Hood offers a literary flair that has consistently earned his Georgia-based band critical praise. The Truckers’ ninth album further cements their reputation as the most significant hard-rock act in years, if only for the power of their darkly compelling narratives. The stomping “Daddy Learned to Fly,” for instance, deals with child abandonment in the most raucous way, Hood’s warbling tenor laced with heartbreak and anger. This time, too, the other Truckers deliver their best material to date. Guitarist Mike Cooley unleashes the blasting rave-up “Birthday Boy,” about a young man’s dismal, cherry-popping moment with a talkative hooker. Bassist Shonna Tucker supplies the surging, piano-kissed ballad “You’ve Got Another.” This is how you play Southern rock—with guts and brains.
Graham Parker, Imaginary Television (Bloodshot)
Punk-era pub-rocker Graham Parker is earning a lot of positive press for his 20th album, which contains 10 originals plus a Johnny Nash cover. Inspired by Parker’s lingering failure to write TV show theme songs, Imaginary Television is an upbeat affair that belies the disposable nature of commercial composition to arrive at something quite profound, if very quiet. In other words, this is folk-pop at its finest, with highlights including the Lesley Gore homage of “It’s My Party (But I Won’t Cry),” the post-9/11 paranoid fantasy (or reality) of “Weather Report” and the forklift-driving character sketch of “Broken Skin.” Arguably superior to the songs are the liner notes, which instead of lyrics offer up a brilliant series of as-yet-unfilmed idiot-box treatments that scream out for David Milch’s attention. Despite its superficial charms, this self-produced exercise in pop-craft shouldn’t be channel-surfed past.
The White Stripes, Under Great White Northern Lights (Warner Bros.)
As long as you discount the 2004 DVD Under Blackpool Lights, this is the White Stripes’ very first live album in the neo-garage-blues duo’s 13-year history. Recorded during the Canadian leg of the Stripes’ tour supporting 2007’s Icky Thump, the set is gorgeously thunderous, suggesting that there’s still more to this band than bluesy riffs placed over primitive Muppets-style drumbeats. Anyone critical of anxiety-suffering Meg White’s limited skin-bashing (the Stripes have canceled tours because of her shaky nerves) needs to sit down in front of a stereo system and bask in the crushing din of “Black Math” and the Celtic-tinged fury of “Little Ghost.” There’s too much energy—too much pure fun—at work here for anyone to deny it. Sure, the DVD version gives a fuller idea of the band’s overall presentation, but there’s something about simply cranking Lights in the pitch dark that makes it all you really need.