Published Oct 30, 2015This isn't the first live record Drive-By Truckers have released, but it is the first one that, when listened to in its sprawling, three-and-a-quarter-hour entirety, comes close to reflecting the experience of actually seeing their show. Recorded over a three-night stand in San Francisco last year, It's Great To Be Alive! manages to be both a document of an historic run and an essential "greatest hits" package. Covering 35 of their best songs — each one remarkable, challenging, entertaining, devastating in its own way — Americana's best live band reminds us that they are also some of its best songwriters, too. I mean, how many bands formed in the late '90s can put together a 35-song set even half this strong?
Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley take turns singing lead on this record, a routine that works well to balance their divergent, but complementary songwriting styles. Hood is a long-form storyteller, a writer of short stories pushing at the confines of the songs he sings, while Cooley is the old reticent poet, whose words are fewer but their meanings deeper. Both sing of the world they see around them though, steely-eyed, honest and dazzlingly empathetic. To spend a little more than three hours in their company is to move within a diverse and complex world of tales both tall and utterly mundane.
One of the great strengths of the Truckers is their willingness to take risks onstage, to court chaos in the pursuit of some kind of rock'n'roll catharsis. Now pared down to a lean, five-piece line-up, the Truckers sound as fiery and ragged as ever, but there are moments here that sound refined, even stately. Their multi-guitar assault remains intact, but even on ragers like "Girls Who Smoke" (a minor song in their catalogue, but here a total knockout), the band sounds remarkably tight and melded. The core sound is enhanced by pillows of organs and some hot guitar leads from Jay Gonzalez, as well as a horn section that appears from time to time to deliver tasteful, soulful accents on songs like "A World of Hurt" and "Shit Shots Count."
"Rock'n'roll means well," snarls Cooley on "Marry Me," "but it can't help telling young boys lies." Go get lied to. (ATO)