When I think of Patterson Hood’s contributions as the leader of Drive-By Truckers, I think of the dirtier, seedier, heavier, southern rock side of everything they do. While Mike Cooley’s guitar and solos can be as dirty and nasty as the best of them, they generally shine the most on tracks written by Hood. Which is why the opening, title track of Murdering Oscar, Hood’s second solo album,is such an appropriate way to kick things off. Sludgy guitars, unrepentant lyrics and a dark shadow laying over everything.
Songs like Screwtopia, Granddaddy and The Range War make me think Hood sees his solo albums as a place to slow things down a little, relax and chill out a bit. A lot of the Truckers albums, and especially their live shows (from what I’ve seen online, anyway) are all about hard drinkin’, hard rockin’, ass kickin’ southern rock. Even when the band slows down, they tend to be Mike Cooley tracks, not Hood contributions. But Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs) show he does have a more tender side and is more than capable of letting it show.
At times, this quieter approach works to highlight Hood’s vocal limitations, but more often, the little wavers and slightly out of reach notes work more to add a vulnerability that perfectly matches the melancholic weary that fills so much of this album.
Heavy and Hanging ads a few more layers of instrumentation and volume to make for a combination of heavy and haunting foreboding, with a jarringly melodic chorus, where despite their clashing tones, these two disparate sounds somehow work together to make each even better.
Ending in real style, Back of a Bible is the perfect example of a genre working to its strengths, indulging in the kind of quirks that would seem like cheap tricks and gimmicks in any other style of music. Arch lyrics, like, “Wrote you a love song on the back of a bible” could only work when sung with a world weary southern drawl, over the top of muted, barley strummed guitars and loose, hollow drums.
Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs) is really good. Actually, it’s really great. The only thing that stops me from absolutely loving it, is the unavoidable, and possibly unfair, comparison to Hood’s day job as a Drive-By Trucker. As much as I like the songs here, I can’t help thinking that I prefer my Patterson Hood songs turned up to eleven and soaked in moonshine fuelled rock excess.