When you've named your band the Drive-By Truckers and your first three albums are called Pizza Deliverance, Gangstabilly, and Alabama Ass Whuppin', you might have a hard time at first convincing folks that you aren't joking. But the Drive-By Truckers proved that they were most definitely not kidding with 2001's brilliant double-disc Southern Rock Opera, and 2003's Decoration Day actually upped the ante on what might have been a fluke masterpiece with its dark and thoroughly absorbing chronicle of hard times in the American South. With The Dirty South, the DBTs have crafted an equally effective companion piece to Decoration Day that plays on the gangsta rap reference of its title with a set of vividly rendered portraits of life along the margins of respectability below the Mason-Dixon line, from laid-off factory rats dealing drugs to feed their kids to Alabama gangsters determined to shut down the cops who made their daughters cry. From the first low, metallic stomps from Brad Morgan's kick drum on "Where the Devil Don't Stay," it's clear that The Dirty South isn't going to be a good-time party most of the way, and while there are some brilliant anthemic rockers on this album (most notably "The Day John Henry Died," "Carl Perkins' Cadillac," and "Never Gonna Change"), and Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Jason Isbell have grown into a force to be reckoned with as both guitarists and songwriters, there's more than a little blood, fear, doubt, shame, and simple human tragedy at the heart of these stories. While much of America might be laughing at "You might be a redneck..." jokes, the Drive-By Truckers aren't about to let anyone forget the harsh truth behind growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in this country, and the tough, muscular force of their music only sharpens the bite of their stories. They can also turn down the amps and still hit you in the heart, especially on "Danko/Manuel" and "Daddy's Cup," and David Barbe's production gives this band the full-bodied clarity they've always deserved. Believe it -- the Drive-By Truckers are the best, smartest, and most soulful hard rock band to emerge in a very long time, and while The Dirty South isn't always good for laughs, it has too many great stories and too much fierce, passionate rock & roll for anyone who cares about such things to dare pass it up.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming