By now, Drive-By Truckers have gotten used to losing songwriters. While the core of the neo-Southern-rockers has always been frontman Patterson Hood and guitarist-singer Mike Cooley, over the years the band has seen gifted colleagues Jason Isbell and Shonna Tucker come and leave the fold.
"English Oceans," the band's 12th LP, is the first to present Hood and Cooley as equal vocal and songwriting partners, and the results are muscular and more experimental than you might expect. The two are excellent foils for each other, with their styles providing deft contrasts. The album starts with a Cooley ripper, "… Shots Count," that instantly proves the vitality of this new lineup. "Pauline Hawkins" lets their Tom Petty flag fly, with sweetly sour harmonies over a tale of domestic revenge — and a dramatic left-turn into a piano ballad.
The LP closes with Hood's "Grand Canyon," a raspy and panoramic rocker that turns Crazy Horse feedback freakouts into something funereal and joyful at once. The Truckers' lineup changes, but their talents never do.