by ELIZABETH STRAUCH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane dove into the swampy backwoods of Mississippi in 1977, killing most of the band, it was a symbolic moment for Alabama native Patterson Hood. Rock and roll -- in its truest form -- was dying, and the civil rights movement in the South was a shambles. Those events drove Hood and his fellow Drive-By Truckers, guitarists Mike Cooley and Rob Malone, 24 years later as they constructed Southern Rock Opera, a concept album complete with a libretto that follows a hero's path from a small town in northern Alabama into an alternate universe where he's fronting a Skynyrd-esque band. "His stage show conjures up the Southern rock glory days," says Hood in an e-mail. "They're telling stories of a forgotten South. Stories no one else was bothering to tell. Rock that doesn't bend down and kiss anybody's ass."
Drive-By Truckers constantly ventures into the personal narratives of its members. "[Southern Rock Opera was about] coming to terms with a legacy that was sometimes really terrible in order to still love where you're from," says Hood. "We felt the most appropriate way to express that and tell that story was to make it sound as much as possible like an old '70s arena-rock album as possible with Skynyrd's live album as a bit of a target. I guess we pulled it off because then everyone said we were a Southern rock band. I should have been flattered, but it was kinda unnerving."
Unnerving because DBT wants to be classified as a rock and roll band, with capital R's and no regional qualifier. But the public's opinion of Drive-By Truckers is much more complex than that. The group has been labeled as "alt-country" by alt-country haters and "too rock" by alt-country lovers. The band didn't clarify that perception any when it released a live punk rock album three years after its debut. Now Hood's thinking about a future concept album about the life and times of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson.
But don't be fooled. The stories embedded in their music -- regardless of which album you listen to -- are all about the South. They tell of the dark, swampy marshes into which rock and roll (and human beings) have sunk. They talk about the South rising again, about the love of whiskey, distrust of organized religion and love for the open road.
Hood considers the band's latest release, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, to be DBT's shining hour, following a period of transition for the band last year -- most notably the departure of guitarist Jason Isbell. Hood rightfully boasts about the songwriting abilities and musicianship put forth by everyone on this album. Played on vinyl, "the way the devil intended," or, more exactly, the way DBT intended, the rock and roll narrative comes through on the waves of pedal steel and Southern accents. Grab your bourbon and listen to it in your wood-paneled basement with Neil Young, Big Star and Lynyrd Skynyrd LPs stacked beside the turntable, as Cooley sings, "Come back, baby, rock and roll never forgets."
Drive-By Truckers with Dead Confederate at the Knitting Factory (nee the Big Easy) on Thursday, June 26, at 8 pm. $20. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.