Song of a preacher man

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Steve Ter­rell

A preacher in a small South­ern town has a dou­ble life. He goes astray and his life and the lives of ev­ery­one around him suf­fer for it. Tragedy fol­lows. (“The rev­erend had his wife done in by a guy I knew in high school.”)

This is the theme of a cou­ple of Pat­ter­son Hood songs on Go-Go Boots, the lat­est al­bum by the Drive-By Truck­ers. It’s a story he told be­fore in “The Wig He Made Her Wear” on the Truck­ers’ pre­vi­ous work, The Big To-Do. “Wig” is based on the true story of Mary Win­kler, who was found guilty of vol­un­tary man slaugh­ter for killing her al­legedly abu­sive hus­band, the Rev. Matthew Win­kler, in 2006, at the cou­ple’s home in Ten­nessee.

The spir­i­tual off­springs of that twisted tale are the new al­bum’s ti­tle song and “The Fire­place Poker.” These are ap­par­ently fic­tional ac­counts in­spired by the 1988 mur­der-for-hire case in which El­iz­a­beth Dor­lene Sen­nett, wife of the Rev. Charles Sen­nett, was stabbed and beaten in her home on Coon Dog Ceme­tery Road (I’m not mak­ing that up!) in Col­bert County, Alabama. The rev­erend com­mit­ted sui­cide, authorities say, soon af­ter be­ing iden­ti­fied as a suspect. One of the con­tract killers, John For­rest Parker, was ex­e­cuted last year. “This was a wild case,” for­mer Col­bert County Sher­iff Buddy Aldridge told an Alabama news­pa­per at the time.

The Sen­nett-mur­der songs are de­light­fully dis­turb­ing. In “Go-Go Boots,” there is a slow and bluesy setup in which Hood in­tro­duces the Cadil­lac-driv­ing preacher, his mis­tress Missy, whose sexy footwear ap­par­ently did for this preacher what Mary Win­kler’s wig and other ac­ces­sories did for her late hus­band. And then

Mur­der is only hinted at in ‘Go-Go Boots.’ But the lyrics of ‘The Fire­place Poker’ read al­most like a po­lice de­tec­tive’s field notes.

there’s the son, driv­ing his Ca­maro and work­ing crappy jobs, the rage build­ing in­side as ru­mors about his mother’s death start to swirl.

The mur­der is only hinted at in “Go-Go Boots”: “He met these guys who didn’t mind get­ting dirty / He was a pil­lar and his alibi was sturdy.” But the lyrics of “The Fire­place Poker” read al­most like a po­lice de­tec­tive’s field notes. It’s a me­an­der­ing epic sung mat­ter-of-factly by Hood over a tense, sturdy beat. In the song, the preacher’s wife is stabbed and left for dead by the hired killer. But it’s the preacher who fin­ishes the job with 15 whacks of a fire­place poker. Also, in the song, the of­fi­cial story of the preacher’s sui­cide is ques­tioned. The preacher’s son brings him home, ap­par­ently from ques­tion­ing at the po­lice sta­tion. Hood asks, “Was he alone when he died? / ‘Don’t call the son for ques­tion­ing, that bul­let was de­served. / Bet­ter call it sui­cide. Jus­tice has been served.’ ”

In a video on the Truck­ers’ web­site, Hood ex­plains that he’s fas­ci­nated when “peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity ... whether it’s a preacher or po­lice­man, you know, peo­ple who are sup­posed to be stand­ing up for the morally up­right things, com­mit hor­rific crimes.” He says that he has an un­fin­ished book and an un­fin­ished screen­play based on the mur­der that in­spired these tunes. “In an­other life, I might have been one of those peo­ple that write, you know, noir books or some­thing, or di­rect noir movies. But in­stead I play in a noir band.”

“Go-Go Boots” and “The Fire­place Poker” weigh in at nearly 14 min­utes. They’re like a movie within the al­bum, but they’re not the only tracks that back up Hood’s con­tention that the Truck­ers are a noir band. While the mu­sic here isn’t quite as rocked out as in most of DBT’s pre­vi­ous al­bums — there are lots of sweet soul grooves and a cou­ple of honky­tonkers — the sto­ries told are some of the most in­tense since The Dirty South, their 2004 al­bum, which is still my fa­vorite.

There’s the grip­ping “Used to Be a Cop,” a seven-minute Hood tale of a for­mer of­fi­cer who sounds like a walk­ing powder keg. He’s a guy who was beaten by his fa­ther, grazed by a bul­let in the line of duty, and di­vorced by a wife who thought he was crazy for all his fid­get­ing and pac­ing. His car was re­pos­sessed, and he car­ries deep re­sent­ment about hav­ing to pay for a house, “but that bitch lives in it now.” Po­lice work was the only thing he was good at, but he lost his badge be­cause of “my tem­per and the shakes.” Mike Coo­ley’s gui­tar snarls and boils, and you keep think­ing some atroc­ity is await­ing in the next verse.

“Ray’s Au­to­matic Weapon” is an­other Hood song. This one is about a Viet­nam vet­eran, not a crim­i­nal. The nar­ra­tor is haunted by re­cur­ring night­mares and has a gnaw­ing fear that some­thing crazy might hap­pen. Or maybe it al­ready did. He begs his war buddy Ray to take back the gun he left with the nar­ra­tor 40 years ago. “The things that I’ve been shoot­ing at are get­ting all too real.”

Not all the songs here are blood and guts. The bari­tone-voiced Coo­ley sings “The Weak­est Man,” an up­beat coun­try tune you could eas­ily imag­ine Conway Twitty singing. Coo­ley’s “Pu­laski” is a sweet, cau­tion­ary tale of a small­town Ten­nessee girl who longs for the nightlife of Los An­ge­les. She comes to an un­spec­i­fied tragic end.

And there’s not one, but two songs writ­ten by the late soul man Ed­die Hin­ton. My fa­vorite is “Where’s Ed­die?” an emo­tional bal­lad cowrit­ten by funky Don­nie Fritts and sung by bass player Shonna Tucker.

Go-Go Boots doesn’t hold to­gether quite as well as last year’s The Big To-Do. My ini­tial im­pres­sion is that there’s more filler on Boots. But don’t worry. You’ll get your money’s worth on the songs I men­tioned. I can’t think of many other bands these days that pro­vide this much meat per plat­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.