After three solo albums and writing the majority of 10 long players for the Drive-By Truckers, prolific doesn’t quite seem to do justice to the output of Patterson Hood. It’s one thing to churn out great songs, but it’s another to churn out great songs where almost each and every one tells a compelling story. Well, Hood did it earlier this year, getting the writing credit on half of the Truckers awesome English Oceans. And I’m betting he did it a year ago too, with his solo outing Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance. Which is a wager I’m making right now.
An acoustic guitar, a drum kit that sounds like little more than a loose kick drum, hypnotic fiddle… 12.01 is Hood at his restrained, mournful best. Replace the fiddle with tinkling piano and you get Leaving Time. On a Truckers record, I always prefer Hood’s rockers and ass kickers to his ballads and reflections, but when he goes solo, his world weary voice seems so perfect for the lighter touch.
Unleashing the electric guitar and snare drum for Better Off Without, the sound might be little fuller, but there’s still plenty of space for the story and characters within the song to float around within Hood’s rasp and southern drawl.
The epic live version of Trucker staple 18 Wheels of Love, and the great album version of The Three Alabama Icons have proven Hood has a knack for speaking over music, becoming a hypnotic, empathetic narrator, instead of the heart broken or score settling singer. One Heat Lightning, that narration showcase comes with (untold pretties). It’s a tricky style to pull off without sounding like bad poetry, but again, Hood’s southern drawl kills any threat of pretention, adding only the sound of genuine, earned experience.
Better Than the Truth is proper banjo pickin’, jug blowin’ country, and it’s great. That boot scootin’ groove is immediately washed away by the ominous Betty Ford. As Hood’s almost whispered vocals are crashed by booming piano bass notes, they turn into luscious harmonies and complete darkness.
It’s a slow, quiet, soulful amble to the finish, and while the last suite of songs might be a little more anonymous and less unique than the songs leading up to them, that non obtrusive, easing out seems kind of appropriate for the mood set by this album.
I don’t know what makes me so much more susceptible to quiet Hood on a solo album than I am on a Truckers record, but never the less, that’s the case. His quiet songs are good when he’s with his day job band, but they’re amazing when he’s by himself. And while the Tuckers have never shied away from a consistent theme or even concept albums, I feel a stronger thematic and literal narrative on Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance than any other Hood related project I’ve ever listened to.