NEW YORK, N.Y. – For the rock band Drive-By Truckers, it's demoralizing to release angry songs about Donald Trump's America just as the president's impeachment trial is winding down toward an acquittal.
That's no reason to back down, and retreat is the furthest thing from songwriter Patterson Hood's mind as the band unveiled its new disc, “The Unraveling,” on Friday.
With the new music, together with 2016's call to arms “American Band,” an outfit that's been around for more than two decades has come into its own as social commentators. Hood's song from that year, “What it Means,” where he tried to put Trayvon Martin and the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in perspective and came up wanting, was pivotal in that transition.
“The last album was so political, my first instinct was to run in the other direction,” Hood said. "That's just how we do things. But every time I thought of the record not addressing these issues, it felt cowardly.
“Are we backing down?” he said. “All the people that were bad-mouthing us, would it be making them think they did something? They didn't win. I'm still pissed off.”
Still, it was a struggle. The goal isn't to write polemics, but songs that will touch people and not immediately feel dated. Both Hood and Mike Cooley, the band's other songwriter and musical partner for 35 years, had a hard time striking that balance even as they wrote separately.
The heart of the new record begins with “Thoughts and Prayers,” Hood's bitter dismissal of the phrase directed at victims of gun violence. In “21st Century USA,” Hood writes of “men working hard for not enough, at best” and “women working just as hard for less.” “Heroin Again” sadly touches on the drug's reemergence, and “Babies in Cages” is self-explanatory. Cooley's strongest contribution, “Grievance Merchants,” is about white supremacists.
There's no mistaking the reference to “the evil man's tirades” in the album's finale, where Hood sings “in the end we're just standing watching greatness fade into darkness.”