When the Drive-By Truckers went into the studio to make a record a couple years ago, the songs came out fast and furious. Make that a lot of songs came quickly, very quickly.
“We knew pretty early we definitely had two records shaping up,” says guitarist/singer Mike Cooley. “A bunch of the songs were done all in that batch. After [the 2010 CD] The Big To-Do was pretty much out, we went back in and cut a few more songs and had an album. It was pretty obvious we had two different albums back then. What that means is I get to tour for another year.”
Go-Go Boots, the second album compiled from those sessions, was released in mid-February to the strong reviews that accompany nearly every release by the Truckers.
Go-Go Boots is being called the band’s country-soul album, while The Big To-Do was its power-pop/ rock turn. But Cooley doesn’t look at the discs that way.
“I don’t really see those categories anymore,” he says. “I think what Loretta Lynn did was as much soul music as what Aretha Franklin did. It was soul music from a different place. I don’t see what rock ’n’ roll artists are doing as much different from what country artists do. It’s all the same, I think.”
That said, he acknowledges that Go-Go Boots in particular was influenced by the band’s stints as backup band for soul singer Bettye LaVette, on her 2007 album Scene of the Crime, and for legendary keyboardist Booker T. Jones, on his 2009 album Potato Head.
“What’s different here is more sonically than the songs themselves,” Cooley says. “The songs take a little different twist because of the way you’re playing them. But it’s more of a sonic thing. The way we’re playing together definitely came about doing the Booker record and touring with him some.”
Patterson Hood, Cooley’s partner in leading the Truckers, contributes murder ballads, tales of fired cops and family Thanksgivings to Go-Go Boots, while bassist Shonna Tucker adds a very soulful vocal on a cover of an Eddie Hinton song.
Cooley’s contributions to Go-Go Boots are a trio of country shuffles, the barroom weeper “Cartoon Gold,” the woeful “The Weakest Man” and “Pulaski,” a story song about a Tennessee girl who moves to California.
His vocals are classic, tear-in-my-beer twangy.
That wasn’t, at all, a calculated approach to the songs, nor was the pure country outcome.
“It’s what I sound like. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got,” Cooley says. “I just let my voice do what it does — which, apparently, is country.”
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the partnership between Cooley and Hood that is at the core of the Truckers. The Truckers came to national attention with 2001’s Southern Rock Opera, a record that told the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd within the band’s usual meditations on the contemporary South. Since then, they’ve released six studio albums, a live disc and a rarities package.
The Big To-Do was the band’s highest charting album ever, and Go-Go Boots appears to be headed in the same upward direction. That’s an indicator that these are good times for the veteran band.
“It seems to be kind of on an upswing,” Cooley says. “You have your ups and downs with audiences and ticket sales. That’s just the business of doing business. You have little plateaus where you don’t seem to be going anywhere, then the wind blows a different direction and things pick up. We’re in a pretty good place now.”
As is their standard, the Truckers are out on the road for an extensive tour. Songs from Go-Go Boots will play a prominent role in the shows. But Cooley said there’s no telling what the band might play on any given night.
“We don’t do any set lists or anything, so I’m trying to stay one step ahead, to think what would be good for this audience,” he says. “And when I remember songs, I think, ‘Did we play that at sound check or last night or have we already played it tonight?’ There are times I have to walk over to Patterson and ask if we’d played a song already. No set list, no teleprompters, no nothing.”
Don’t expect to see a new Truckers record early next year. There’s not another disc in the can from the To-Do sessions. After touring for most of 2011, the band will need to recharge its batteries before it is ready to go back into the studio, Cooley says.
“We’ll take a breather, back off some,” Cooley says. “We’ll still do a few shows. … We’ll take some time until we’re ready to write again and then we’ll want to tour.”
On the Bill
Drive-By Truckers play the Ogden Theatre on Friday, March 18, and Saturday, March 19. Doors at 8 p.m.
Heartless Bastards open on Friday; Casey James Prestwood, the Burning Angels open Saturday. Tickets are $25 to $30 for one night, $40 for both. 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-830-2525.