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Drive-By Truckers - The New OK LP (Ltd Red Vinyl Edition)

Drive-By Truckers - The New OK LP (Ltd Red Vinyl Edition)

ATO Records

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Musicians play music. That's what they do. Unless they suddenly can't go out and perform for people because, say, there's a global pandemic that has almost entirely shut down live music. Life in a divided nation under the rule of Donald Trump was already weighing heavy on the minds of the Drive-By Truckers on 2016's American Band and 2020's The Unraveling, and being stuck at home and unable to tour, with little to do but watch their nation burn, hasn't made them feel any better. In many respects, 2020's The New OK is an album that came to be because the DBTs couldn't do much else. Most of the tunes were recorded for The Unraveling but were set aside for an album where they would better fit, and a few were recorded with the musicians trading tracks back and forth, recording in separate studios and only communicating in the virtual realm. The result is a record that feels urgent and politically engaged, yet also edgy and claustrophobic in a way that's unusual for this band. The New OK is the sound of men who know things are bad, and they not only don't know how to fix things, they aren't even sure how to protect themselves or their loved ones. Principal songwriter Patterson Hood has been living in Portland, Oregon for the past several years; "Watching the Orange Clouds" and the title tune were informed by the ongoing clashes between activists and law enforcement in his adopted hometown, and his rage at injustice is matched by a puzzled, agonized fear about what's happening and what terrible place it could go next. In short, The New OK is about living with the knowledge that things are not OK at all, and there are no easy or simple answers in the offering. The album's piecemeal construction gives it a more fragmented tone than their best work, and it's insistent at the expense of the careful sequencing they favor. The New OK is also short on contributions from co-founder Mike Cooley, who only gets one song here, though "Sarah's Flame" is a darkly witty and perceptive nod to Sarah Palin and how she made the Trump presidency possible. While a Ramones cover might seem like a strange way to end this album, their furious blast through "The KKK Took My Baby Away" is fun and gloriously liberating, a wild cry against the darkness that reflects the snotty confidence of youth, a luxury these men can't always afford these days. The New OK sometimes feels uneven and precarious, which in this context is an asset rather than a failing; as a snapshot of America in October 2020, it's unnervingly accurate and devastatingly relatable, as well as a powerful set of work from a great American band. -All Music Guide

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