Southern Rock Opera

A rock opera about Lynyrd Skynyrd, it has to be some tongue in cheek, wink-wink exercise in irony, right? Wrong. The Drive By Truckers have delivered a complex study of "the duality of the Southern thing." Southern icons such as Bear Bryant, George Wallace and Ronnie Van Zandt play significant roles in the 20 tracks strung out over two discs. Ambivalence seems to be the central emotion; there's pride and there's shame (and shame about the shame and shame about the pride). The result is an enlightening look at a complex society and the people who embody it. The Truckers usually get slotted in with the alt-country crowd, but apart from the Southern accents there's not a lot of country in their sound. They rock out much the same way as Slobberbone and the Bottle Rockets do. Not surprisingly, there's also a fair amount of Skynyrd in their sound, and completing the circle by way of "Sweet Home Alabama," a significant Crazy Horse vibe permeates the best moments. The last is appropriate since "Southern Man" and "Alabama" informed Southern rock as much as anything else did. What is ironic about it is that by forging all those factors together, DBT have become a better and smarter band than their progenitors. Skynyrd never made a record this good and Neil never made one better. Barring an unforeseen last minute entry, Southern Rock Opera is the best record of the 21st Century so far. (Independent)