Patterson Hood — Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance. Out 9/4, ATO Records.
Patterson Hood has always been my least favorite songwriter of those who’ve passed through and stayed in the Drive-By Truckers; this doesn’t mean I don’t love Patterson’s songwriting, not by any stretch of the imagination, because I do, and he’s written some of my favorite Truckers songs. It just means I’ve always been more drawn to Cooley’s writing as a whole body of work, or to Jason Isbell’s, or even to Shonna Tucker’s. Sometimes Patterson really needs an editor, is all I’m saying. (“Mercy Buckets” is a terrible song, Truckers fans, and if you don’t realize that, you have a problem.) He could stand to shut up once in a while, you know?
Luckily, I don’t think that Patterson Hood needs to shut up even once on his new solo record, his second release on Charlottesville’s ATO Records.
It’s a neat little slice of Patterson’s signature Southern Gothic storytelling, right from the start: “12:01”, a song about buying booze after midnight to get around blue laws, and about the destruction of a relationship from drinking, is a rainy, pedal-steeled lament to the way you can fuck up your own life when you only mean the best. Nobody in Patterson’s songs ever gets quite what they want, after all, and that continues through the album. “Leaving Time” leads its chorus with the line do what you’re told without a fuss, and “Disappear” is an ode to running out on your problems.
The prize of this record is that the songwriting is always deliciously compact — Patterson has managed to tell his stories in less time, with a wider range of sounds than most Truckers records have. There are the minor key broken heart songs like “12:01”, but there are songs like “Better Off Without” which could have easily come right off of Go Go Boots: thinking about things that I’m better off without. It’s got the twanging guitars, metronomic drumming, and lovely harmonic vocals on the second verse that sound just like the Truckers, even under Patterson’s solo name, and “(untold pretties)” is one of Patterson’s gorgeous spoken word pieces that have fallen off the Truckers’ releases in recent years but still pack a pretty huge damn emotional punch, punctuated by Johnny Neff’s pedal steel.
“After the Damage” is a perfect post-break-up song, about the relationships you torch after the one that broke your heart; and “Come Back Little Star”, as I’ve written on Speakers in Code, is a gut-wrenching song about the people left behind after a suicide (the song was co-written by Patterson and Kelly Hogan in honor of the late Vic Chestnutt). Patterson is good at songs that eyeball the darkness inside situations, but he’s great at songs that look at the aftermath in sympathetic, heart-wide-open ways.
This is recommended, because it’s Patterson Hood at his songwriting best, with none of the 8 minute tracks that make me roll my eyes and grumble at him. It’s Patterson, filtered down to the rawest emotions and the most direct songs, and it’s lovely.