Thursday, June 25, 2009

Patterson Hood: Murdering Oscar (and other love songs)

you know it -

Patterson Hood's Murdering Oscar (and other love songs) will likely sound familiar to the legions of PBR-swillin', trucker-hat-wearin' Drive-By Trucker fans. Like Hood's work with DBT, its songs are deceptively simple, straightforward and full of rough edges: searing guitars wail and shred, understated strings and piano melodies add some tenderness and heartache to the fray, background harmonies offer texture and Hood sings in his usual scratchy, countrified drawl. Many of the lyrical obsessions of DBT's best work are here as well: kin (er, family), Southern culture and its various "quirks," mortality and aging, booze and no small number of men and women of questionable moral character.

Though Oscar contains a solid collection of songs, it likely won't convince non-believers who have never gotten on board with Hood or who haven't followed DBT since masterpiece Southern Rock Opera, and is best left to those deranged DBT fanatics living among us. In some ways Oscar has the feel of an odds-and-ends closet-clearing project. Essentially a mixture of songs originally penned by Hood in the early 1990s and more-recent songs, many of them were planned for release but were eventually shelved for various reasons. This isn't to say that the songs are glorified outtakes or b-sides; despite the years that separate some of these songs, the album is quite cohesive, both in sound and Hood's alternately humorous and dark lyrics.

Many of the songs trod familiar ground. "Pollyanna" is built around interweaving guitars and piano as it depicts the age-old story of a relationship in shambles, while the droning "Heavy and Hanging" was written in response to Kurt Cobain's suicide. A number of songs deal with domesticity. The old-timey guitar and strings of "Granddaddy" paint a picture of familial contentment; Hood notes that the song was written shortly before his daughter was born. It's not all New Morning bliss though; the wistful nostalgia of "Pride of the Yankees" is offset by a 9/11 reference and Hood's foreboding lament that "the sky is falling," while "Screwtopia" unfolds like a pissed-off satire of home life, its decidedly un-PC narrator clearly not having bought into feminism ("Keep you pregnant all the time.../ Keep you happy and sedated/ Who need to be liberated?"), and embracing the NRA's favorite amendment ("Son here's a loaded gun/ Try not to hurt no one").

Yet there are few "Holy Shit" moments here, no "Days Of Graduation" or "Plastic Flowers On The Highway" to make the listener take notice. It's reliable yeoman's work to be sure, but the album simply meets the listener's expectations and rarely exceeds them. There are also a few clunkers that are curiosity pieces at best; "She's a Little Randy" sports a few cringe-worthy lyrics, while "Walking Around Sense" sounds uncomfortably similar to early Uncle Tupelo-era Jeff Tweedy. As a document that traces Hood's development as a musician and songwriter, DBT fans most in need of psychiatric treatment and a heavy chaser of pills could spend countless hours analyzing these songs and how they tie in to Hood's previous work. Hood seems to realize this, as his detailed liner notes provide fans with a map, compass and a bit of spare change to help them along. Casual DBT fans - if such a thing even exists - will still find enough to like about Oscar, but it's not required listening by any means.

No comments: