The Drive-By Truckers are masters at building songs around rich, three-dimensional characters. This time out, we meet "Bob," a single guy with lots of dogs who likes to drink beer and drive his mother to the beauty salon.
We hear disgust in friendship lost to crystal meth: "Lost your family/ Wrecked your truck/ Used to love you/ Now you suck."
And we feel the detached agony of an American soldier in Iraq who just shot a man in self-defense: "That man I shot/ I was in his homeland/ I was there to help him/ He didn't want me there."
The music in this 19-song opus is as sweeping and grand as the lyrics. "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" blends banjo, pedal steel, piano and percussion to make a haunting indie-folk dreamscape. But turn on their electric guitars, and the Drive-By Truckers belong in the company of Southern rock greats like Lynyrd Skynyrd.
This may become the definitive alt-country album of 2008.