IT’S AN album that came out of nowhere; Drive-By Truckers’ The New OK grew from a lockdown EP, something to occupy crack musicians after their last album, The Unraveling, collecting together some pretty powerful odds and ends from those Memphis sessions, including a fiery ‘n’ fun run-through Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away” as we featured here in Christmas week.

That EP swelled and swelled – suddenly, over a deeply dystopian period, which the band’s Patterson Hood calls “this endless summer of protests, riots, political shenanigans and pandemic horrors,” the band – singer, songwriter and guitarist Patterson, his co-founding sparring partner in those roles Mike Cooley, bassist Patton, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez and drummer Brad Morgan began to swap tracks over the web, working on an idea here, an idea there.

Pretty soon, that EP was nine tracks long, and, as Patterson summarises things, “a full album that hopefully balances out the darkness of our current situation with a hope for better days and nights ahead.

“To call these past few months trying would be a dramatic understatement,” he says.

“Our lives are intertwined with our work in ways that give us our best songs and performances. It is a life that has often rewarded us beyond our wildest dreams.

“Speaking for myself, I don’t have hobbies, I have this thing I do. To be sidelined with a brand new album and have to sit idly while so much that I love and hold dear falls apart before my very eyes has been intense, heartbreaking, anger-provoking and very depressing. It has gone to the very heart of our livelihoods and threatened near everything that we have spent our lives trying to build.

“Here’s to the hope that we can make 2021 a better year than this one has been!”

And they’ve dropped a lyric animation – itself an video artform and musical adjunct that really seems to have come into its own in these times – to accompany “Tough To Let Go”, a song I think is something of a flipside to that Ramones cover, a bruised, wintry lament, heartfelt, warm organ and ringing guitar, sweeping you up.

It speaks of hard times, and letting go of internal darknesses – something we’ve all felt this past year, huh? Patterson and the boys have got this. They know it’s tough.

Drive-By Truckers’ The New OK is out now on digital stream and download, CD and cherry-red vinyl via ATO Records. You can order yours direct from the label or your neighbourhood record store.

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