Now Hear This 

Reviews of new releases by Drive By Truckers, Buddy Miller, The Black Keys, and local bands Lamb of God and Marna Bales

Drive-By Truckers "The Dirty South" (New West)

By sharing songwriting and vocal duties throughout, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell keep the approach fresh and unpredictable during the band's sixth album (the third featuring cover art by Richmond painter Wes Freed). The three talented songwriters and their three angry guitars have you trudging through the swamps of Alabama alongside one of America's best rock bands.

In "The Dirty South" you get belted with realism, Southern style. The boys kick you down memory lane where you bounce among moonshiners, Carl Perkins, Buford Pusser, crooked politicians and corruption. Hood's raspy tenor on "Puttin' People on the Moon" sounds tough next to Cooley's low growl on "Where the Devil Don't Stay," while Isbell holds his own on the album's best ballad, "Goddam Lonely Love."

While other bands are content to write about everyday situations, the Truckers take you for a ride in "Carl Perkins' Cadillac" or to "The Sands of Iwo Jima," where Hood's great-uncle fought. The complexity of these songs never gets bogged down by musical overproduction or unwieldy theatrics. The message is straightforward and it allows you to taste the Truckers' pride for Alabama, however gritty that pill may be to swallow.

That's the beauty of the Truckers; they don't sugarcoat a thing. Like Patterson sings in "Boys from Alabama": "Don't piss off the Boys from Alabama, you know they won't let it slide. They might find your body in the Tennessee River, or they might not find you at all." ***1/2 — Scott Elmquist

The Black Keys "Rubber Factory" (Epitaph)

If the success of an album were determined not by record sales and music videos, but by how cool it sounds coming out of car speakers while driving with the windows down, the third album by this Akron, Ohio, duo, would be platinum in less than 10 blocks. Recorded in an old rubber factory, the album's blues sound buzzes with an unapologetic lack of polish.

Pull up next to an MTV-generation kid, and he'll appreciate the two-fisted rock sensibility of "Till I Get My Way," the song Lenny Kravitz always wanted to write. Heartbroken drivers will appreciate the warbling strains of "The Lengths," the band's first real slow song, a ballad played on a saw. Cigarette-smoking blues fans cruising along will love any of the 13 tracks for the undercurrent of longing and loneliness. From the angry hornet guitar of "The Desperate Man" to the late-'60s pop and whine of "All Hands Against His Own," there's not a bad choice made in this latest offering. ***1/2 — Brandon Reynolds

Local Bin

Lamb of God "Ashes of the Wake" (Epic)

How can you call Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe a singer? Without the lyric sheet, you'd be lost as to what all the rage is about, but that's beside the point. Blythe is the antediluvian soul of this Richmond band. His guttural utterances serve as a primeval articulation of disgust, loathing and anger.

"Ashes of the Wake" is Lamb of God's first major label release since signing with Epic Records, and it shows the band has mastered the heavy-metal elements. Someone aptly named Machine provided crystal clear production, greatly enhancing the shrieking vocals, technically precise guitar showboating and violent tempo shifts that are the group's calling cards.

"Ashes" is full blast from start to finish, an aerobic exercise of intricately organized pandemonium designed to pummel the listener. The group is insanely tight. As fast and hard as they play, there isn't a single note out of place. Guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler are riff machines trading leads and rhythms with scorching meticulousness while drummer Chris Adler (Willie's brother) and bassist John Campbell keep the seemingly impossible tempos.

Lamb of God recently finished a successful stint on the popular Ozzfest tour, and "Ashes of the Wake" debuted in mid-September at number 27 on the Billboard chart. After 10 years pounding away in the underground, the band members' music is finally seeing the light of day. Success has spread their music to a wider audience, but it has by no means diluted their sound. **** — Chris Bopst

Marna Bales "All Grown Up" (Mikey Boy Music)

With this self-released effort, Bales and her band serve notice that there's enough pop-rock talent in this outfit to sing and play circles around many a band in town. Bales has powerful pipes, and she receives support from some of Richmond's most respected players.

The production could lose some of the bells and whistles, but Bales is obviously not going for the rough-around-the-edges sound. What ultimately blunts the impact of this project is the repetitive and predictable groove that settles in. The songs deal with the struggle to overcome personal mistakes and to understand one's place in this mess of a world. There's nothing to fault there, but from "Get Up," to the final track "I'm So Glad," the songs fail to connect lyrically or emotionally as surely as they were intended.

The title tune features some tasty dobro, but the notions of maturity celebrated ring hollow. "Can I Count On You" is pretty but, again, the questions that are asked and answered have little impact. And the song "Take Me Away," repeating "take me away, just somewhere so far away," only takes a listener so far. My guess is that this band has a great live sound and that with a more diverse bag of songs next time around, it could be great on CD as well. **1/2 — A.A.

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