Drive-By Truckers' leader, Patterson Hood, wrote and recorded the 12 songs on Killers and Stars in 2001 during what was, by his own admission, a dark and difficult time in his life, though you probably wouldn't have needed to know that to make an educated guess that this was not the work of a happy man. A lo-fi acoustic collection of tunes recorded in his dining room on a four-track, Killers and Stars takes the troubling undercurrents of DBT's songs like "The Deeper In," "Sink Hole," and "Angels and Fuselage" and drags them to the surface, and while one could imagine a souped-up version of "Miss Me Gone" finding its way onto a Drive-By Truckers album, nearly everything else exists in a universe somehow separate from Hood's prior work. But while this sounds less like a full-blown solo album than a set of demos that developed a life of its own (a bit like Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska), Hood's instincts were right for giving these songs a home of their own, because they genuinely deserve one. "Rising Son" and "Old Timer's Disease" are sad but accurate examinations of family from both ends of the generational divide, "Phil's Transplant" is a striking character sketch about a woman who no longer recognizes her husband after he's received a new heart, and "Frances Farmer" and "Cat Power" are meditations on two of Hood's romantic obsessions. A few of these tunes are experiments that don't fully succeed, but like nearly everything else here, the short blasts of rage on "Fire" and "Belinda Carlisle Diet" get over thanks to Hood's stark, emotionally naked performances. Patterson Hood previously distributed a self-released version of Killers and Stars as a "work in progress," and his decision not to "complete" it sounds like the right thing to do -- like Nebraska, Killers and Stars is an album whose plain surfaces and rough edges only add to the impact of the final work.
Killers and Stars Review
by Mark Deming