A departed band member can make the advent of a new album nerve-wracking rather than exciting for an ardent fan, but the absence of Jason Isbell, Drive-By Truckers’ singer of seven years, brings out a return to roots, as well as new directions. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, the band’s eighth album, features contributions from band members who normally play the wallflower (bassist Shonna Tucker penned three shimmering beauties) paired with crunchier contributions from Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and John Neff, with ‘icing on the cake’ keyboards by legendary Spooner Oldham.
Stories paste this album’s nineteen songs together. Cooley’s country-washed songs add humor with “Lisa’s Birthday” and “Bob,” the tale of a man whose mom is the only one “she lets call him Robert” and who “has always had more dogs than he ever had friends.” Hood pens staunch southern rock with such vigor and drama it draws goose bumps. “The Man I Shot” is chilling, a strong contrast to Tucker’s gentle writing and Cooley’s ‘aw, shucks’ style. Hood’s slower ballads veer into Eagles territory at times, which can either please – in the case of the amazing “Daddy Needs a Drink,” made stellar by heart-wrenching pedal steel – or annoy, as on “The Home Front,” which is lite rock at best.
Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is an album to be traveled through, soaking in all the odd twists and turns, corners and dips. There are some bumpy spots, but the unexpected beauty will sink the listener like a stone, and the buoyant humor will lift the mood and ease the listener into reality, as the best stories often do.