Twelve studio albums is a long time to maintain your edge, but Drive-By Truckers show no signs of fatigue on the compelling English Oceans. While the band has maintained a consistent identity over the years, telling hard-luck stories of everyday people with nonjudgmental eloquence, subtle changes have helped them stay fresh, namely new faces in the supporting cast and a gradual shift to a greater sharing of creative power. Where Patterson Hood seemed to be the main driving force in the early days, fellow writer and singer Mike Cooley has emerged as a more substantial and confident contributor, and provides 6 of the 13 songs here. His folkier voice may sound too understated at first, but serves as an effective counterpoint to Hood’s bluesier and brasher displays. Highlights include “Made Up English Oceans,” inspired by real-life political smear master Lee Atwater, and the epic, eight-minute lament “Grand Canyon.”
Equally adept at dirty, two-fisted rock and tender ballads, Drive-By Truckers still have their mojo. Long may they roll.