When the blood-splattered story-song “The Wig He Made Her Wear” appeared in the middle of Drive-By Truckers’ otherwise pop-friendly 2010 album The Big To-Do, it stuck out like a drunken, black-sheep uncle at a family reunion. But in light of Go-Go Boots—a purposefully looser, jammier, and altogether weirder collection of songs recorded concurrently with the more direct Big To-Do material—“The Wig He Made Her Wear” now sounds like a prologue. Like that song, “The Fireplace Poker” is a restlessly wandering tale involving a disgraced preacher and a twisted family drama that can’t be obscured by small-town niceties. But this time, singer-songwriter Patterson Hood proceeds at an even more leisurely pace, letting the twangy tangle of guitars smolder without exploding for more than eight minutes.
Drive-By Truckers engage this deliberate plod a lot on Go-Go Boots, setting aside the compact arena-rock of The Big To-Do in favor of meandering mood pieces that don’t always coalesce into fully formed songs. Sometimes Hood’s storytelling is strong enough to compensate, like on “Used To Be A Cop,” a creeping character study with all the gritty details of a downbeat ’70s crime movie. But rumbling ramblers like “Ray’s Automatic Weapon” and “The Thanksgiving Filter” drift off course without the ballast of solid riffs and catchy choruses. Shonna Tucker’s slight contributions don’t pick up much of the slack, leaving Hood’s long-time foil Mike Cooley to add a little sweetness to Go-Go Boots’ lurid flavor. (The way Cooley wraps his hickory pipes around delightful back-porch shuffles like “The Weakest Man” and “Pulaski” suggests he has a scrumptiously shaggy solo country record in him.) An inconsistent record from one of rock’s most consistent bands, at least Go-Go Boots is the good kind of mess, with deadbeats and dead bodies discarded like cigarettes butts in all the right, random places.