Photo: Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
Nathaniel Rateliff, Wilco & More To Perform At Charleston, S.C.'s High Water Festival
Find out who's headed to the fourth annual fest next April in the Holy City
High Water Festival announced its 2020 lineup today, featuring Nathaniel Rateliff, Wilco, Brittany Howard, Mavis Staples, Andrew Bird, Sharon Van Etten, Drive-By Truckers, Shovels & Rope, Angel Olsen, Rufus Wainwright and more.
Your #HighWaterFest lineup is HERE The Previous Buyers Pre-sale begins tomorrow 11/6 at 10 AM EST and the Public On-sale kicks off Thursday 11/7 at 10 AM EST. Explore tickets, experiences, and more → https://t.co/e5NrLcRYtb pic.twitter.com/GeZBQ3EsgN— High Water Festival (@highwaterfest) November 5, 2019
The Charleston, S.C., fest returns for its fourth year on April 18-19, 2020 at Riverfront Park. Curated by hometown folk heroes Shovels & Rope, made up of musical duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hears, the two-day festival will be a celebration of music, food and libations.
The stacked lineup also features Delta Spirit, Liz Cooper & The Stampede, Drew Holcolm & The Neighbors, The Felice Brothers, Cedric Burnside and more. High Water also offers unique, immersive oyster education classes and community service opportunies through its charitable partners.
Weekend passes for High Water go on sale Nov. 7 at 10 a.m. EST, with VIP passes and a new ticket tier, The Platinum Pearl Experience, also available via the festival's website.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photos (L-R): Peter Crosby, Mick Hutson/Redferns, Ken Weingart/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Songbook: A Guide To Wilco’s Discography, From Alt-Country To Boundary-Shattering Experiments
As they approach their 30th anniversary, Wilco are readying a familiar-yet-alien new album, 'Cousin.' It's a timely reminder that the prolific Chicago group are masters of infinite surprise.
As the axiom goes: surround yourself with people you can always learn from. This encapsulates the dynamic between Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. The beloved, enduring, four-time GRAMMY-winning group has been a vehicle for Tweedy's incisive songwriting for nearly 30 years.
Outside of Wilco, Tweedy is masterful: 2018's and 2019's raw-nerved, lived-in Warm and Warmer are proof positive of this. But although 99 percent of Wilco songs are Tweedy's, they've never been merely his backing band. Every incarnation of Wilco has contained visionaries and virtuosos.
Take the complicated and inventive Jay Bennett, Tweedy's foil for their first three masterpieces: Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Or Glenn Kotche, a key member since 2001 — not just a drummer and percussionist, but a 360° musical thinker.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Wilco's current lineup, solidified since 2005, is stacked with masters.
Such as bassist John Stirratt, who's provided their subtle emotional undercarriage since their formation. And Nels Cline, one of the preeminent experimental guitarists of the 21st century. With each release, guitarist Pat Sansone and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen's colors and shapes grow more iridescent.
On Sept. 29, Wilco will release their 13th album, Cousin — their second in just over a year, after 2022's Cruel Country. That self-consciously rootsy double album felt totally natural — essentially falling out of Tweedy's mouth and guitar.
But speaking to GRAMMY.com, Tweedy explained that Cousin would manifest like "an odd shape in the desert" — and it certainly does. Produced by consummate tinkerer Cate Le Bon, songs like "Infinite Surprise," "Levee" and "Meant to Be" coat Tweedy's rumpled, weatherbeaten tunes with a gently alien, digital feel.
As Tweedy put it in the press release, "Cate is very suspicious of sentiment, but she's not suspicious of human connection." Which makes her an ideal fit for a legacy band often preoccupied with distance, disorientation and loss in translation.
With Cousin on the horizon, GRAMMY.com took a spin through Wilco's discography — loosely trisected by era, and leaving out side projects and collaborative albums.
Uneasy Alt-Country (1994-2000)
Yes, the title refers to the form of broadcasting — hence the vintage radio on the cover. But the sunny, uncomplicated A.M. feels like the dawning of an important American band.
At the time, A.M. was unfavorably compared to Trace, the debut album by Son Volt — led by Jay Farrar, Tweedy's partner in the band Uncle Tupelo. (When they split in 1994, Tweedy got multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston, bassist Stiratt, and drummer Ken Coomer in the divorce.)
But 28 years later, the story of this rivalry has lost its luster: A.M. is a perfectly solid American album. Today, rootsy, power-popping tracks like "I Must Be High," "Box Full of Letters" and "Passenger Side" are perfectly enjoyable on their own terms.
Twelve albums later, A.M. remains the first and last Wilco album to feature basically no experimentation — a model that would dramatically flip in the next calendar year.
Being There (1996)
Sure, a few cuts on the double-disc Being There could snugly fit on A.M. — like the burbling "Forget the Flowers," the swaggering "Kingpin" and the rollicking "Dreamer in My Dreams."
But on the main, Being There is their Rubber Soul; while it shares superficial characteristics with their earlier creations, the band's works abruptly accrued a sense of windswept majesty.
This is obvious from the jump: where A.M. began with a friendly drum fill and some steely twang, Being There's opener, "Misunderstood," fades in with booming toms, thunderclap crashes and clamorous feedback.
So many of its small-town images stick in your craw: the taste of cigarettes, the promise of a party, the state of being "short on long-term goals."
"Misunderstood" ends with that unforgettable repetition of "I'd like to thank you all for nothing! / Nothing! / Nothing!" et al: the 18 ensuing songs seem to emanate from that wellspring of lonesome beauty.
The banjo-led "What's the World Got in Store" is aching and lovely; the spare, seven-minute "Sunken Treasure" is a canyon of feeling; baroque-pop "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" foreshadows Summerteeth.
All these nascent ideas would take flower on ensuing albums, but Being There retains its partisans for very good reasons.
Summerteeth holds a unique distinction in Wilco's catalog: it's the most candy-coated and the most harrowing. Imagine Sgt. Pepper's with several variations on "I used to be cruel to my woman and beat her," and you're somewhere within spitting distance.
After zippy single "Can't Stand It" notes the arbitrary nature of divine blessings, the icy "She's a Jar" ends with a still-startling twist: "She begs me not to hit her."
The violence rolls on: "A Shot in the Arm" has a gory, hammering outro: "Something in my veins/ Bloodier than blood." At the top of centerpiece "Via Chicago," Tweedy has a recurring dream of committing homicide, and watching his victim bleed out.
But these lashings of aggression are well-timed, and in a vivid balance with the instrumentation: Summerteeth isn't an uncomfortably bleak listen, but an eclectic and unforgettable one.
"I'm Always in Love" is a sugar rush that threatens to shake apart. "My Darling," Bennett's ode to his niece in demo form, reads as a bedtime song from Tweedy to his son, and carries the paternal poignancy of John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy."
Despite the conspicuous advancements on Summerteeth, closer "In a Future Age" is its truest arrow to what was to come — despite it being a few chords, awash in atmosphere.
"Let's turn our prayers/ Into outrageous dares," Tweedy sings; the music feels like a blank page, ready for anything to be drafted on it.
Drummer Ken Coomer described Summerteeth as "two guys losing their minds in the studio," and that dynamic would come to a head very soon.
Uncharted Territory (2001-2006)
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
From interband drama to label warfare to 9/11 extrapolation, it seems like everything there is to write about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has been written.
But besides every outtake you can imagine being available — via the GRAMMY-winning 20th century deluxe edition — a documentary being made about it, the album's actual making feels paradoxically enigmatic.
"They were replacing parts all the way up into the mix," Cheryl Pawelski, the compilation producer for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: 20th Anniversary, tells GRAMMY.com. [Mixing engineer] Jim [O'Rourke] would send Glenn out and say, 'Play something like a marching band over the section.'"
The lush, abstracted production throughout Yankee Hotel Foxtrot gives it much of its character. But the spectacle wouldn't mean much without unforgettable songs.
Despite, or because of, its fragmented wordplay, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" digs into the center of your chest: a "Bible-black predawn" is many times more evocative than "early morning." "Radio Cure" is an extended hand through staticky space, a signal faintly perceptible in the noise.
From there, not a single track, or moment, feels out of place. The shivering, lovely "Jesus, Etc." is Wilco's most famous song for a reason. The admission "I know I would die if I could come back new," in "Ashes of American Flags," remains devastating.
It all ends with the astonishing "Reservations," one of Wilco's most vulnerable and guileless creations; the drone decays and decays, refusing to let go.
When Wilco played "Reservations" live for a run of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 20th anniversary shows, Tweedy was lain flat by the experience.
"The audience just really calmed itself down and stayed with it for this long, drawn out fade-out," he told American Drunkard. "And that was the whole point of the record ending that way. It's gone and you're left with your interior thoughts.
"That response made me really proud, but also, it made me sad," he continued. "Every night. I cried every night." Two decades later, "Reservations" — as with all of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — still reverberates through our bones.
A Ghost is Born (2004)
True to the album art — a single egg, balancing in a vacuum — Wilco followed their most visionary album with their most fragile: A Ghost is Born.
Counterweighing tunes of levity and light — like the bouncy, yearning "Hummingbird," the swinging, downtown-ish "Handshake Drugs" and the cult rock fan manifesto "The Late Greats" — are some of their most devastated, naked works.
"At Least That's What You Said" begins barely audibly, with Tweedy less singing than sleeptalking — then erupts into a seizure of electric guitar, performed with abandon by Tweedy himself.
If you subscribe to the Neil Young with Crazy Horse school of the instrument, A Ghost is Born is a treat: this is where we hear Tweedy let loose. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is their first true motorik workout; Tweedy's guitar punctures its even keel like a kitchen knife through office paper.
But as always with Wilco, the violence is counterweighed by a sighing beauty: "Muzzle of Bees" and "Wishful Thinking" are featherlight and swaddling; the side-eyed "Company in My Back" and punky "I'm a Wheel" are a reprieve from the album's tortured circumstances.
Speaking of: the most important moment of A Ghost is Born might also be the most skippable. At the end of the collapsed "Less Than You Think" is 13 minutes of noise, intended to represent Tweedy's migraines while addicted to painkillers.
"Even I don't want to listen to it every time I play through the album," Tweedy admitted. "But the times I do calm myself down and pay attention to it, I think it's valuable and moving and cathartic."
From here, the most outré Wilco fan may have braced themselves for a complete leap into the unknown. But Wilco would never pursue this degree of extremity again.
A Solidified Front (2007-present)
Sky Blue Sky (2007)
Featuring new guitarists Pat Sansone and Nels Cline, Wilco's heady, unwieldy 2005 live album Kicking Television whetted fans' thirst for even danker Wilco. As plenty of contemporaneous reviews groused: instead, they got Sky Blue Sky.
Granted, at the time, it felt like a retreat from the verge of something radical. Fueled by increasing suspicion of sound design, Tweedy sought a back-to-basics approach that harkened back to the classic rock that got Wilco going. (And via Nels Cline's chops, a helping of Tom Verlaine of Television.)
Sky Blue Sky is a pure, unadulterated listen — a window into the Wilco we know and love today.
Sometimes, the lyrics feel caught between abstracted musings ("You Are My Face") and quotidian imagery ("Hate it Here") — and when they're presented a la carte, they invite scrutiny.
But when the band simply lets it rip, they communicate more than words ever could; on "Impossible Germany" and "Side With the Seeds," Cline must be heard to be believed.
Wilco (The Album) (2009)
Sky Blue Sky welcomed in a new era of Wilco; as they approached their 15th anniversary, they decided to throw a party for themselves. (Hence the camel's birthday party on the cover.)
The choogling "Wilco (The Song)" remains something of a theme song for the band: the refrain "Wilco will love you, baby," a rallying cry.
What follows is a tour through the Wilco Museum: you get Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-level immersion ("Deeper Down"), a bloody fantasy worthy of Summerteeth ("Bull Black Nova") and a Stonesy rocker beamed from Being There ("Sonny Feeling").
Elsewhere, "You Never Know" is a highly commercial (and lovely) duet with Feist, suggesting a trajectory where A.M.'s simplicity remained the order of the day.
But like Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (The Album) peaks when the band takes flight, as on the majestic, lighters-up "One Wing" and the radiant, All Things Must Pass-like "You Never Know."
"Every generation thinks it's the end of the world," Tweedy sings in "You Never Know." Wilco (The Album) is permeated with that askance, self-referential attitude — which makes it right on time, another 15 years on.
The Whole Love (2011)
With The Whole Love, the new Wilco was now three albums in — and more simpatico than ever. Their sleek and jagged sides had found a rapprochement; Nils Cline played more in the shadows than on top of the others.
This synergy could suggest a lack of danger, which thrillingly pushed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born over the edge. If not for its first and last tunes in particular: "Art of Almost" and "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)."
The former is as arcane a composition as Wilco ever dreamt up: the undulating, unpredictable co-creation has shades of Can and electric Miles, and eventually erupts into a string-snapping showcase from Cline.
As for the latter: it shows Tweedy's incisiveness as a writer hadn't dimmed a bit.
In its account of a son's cracked relationship with his late father, "One Sunday Morning" unspools like peak Dylan: it's immediately recognizable to anyone grieving a complicated, controlling parent: "Bless my mind, I miss/ Being told how to live."
In between, Wilco try on various costumes to satisfying results: sleek new wavers ("Born Alone," "Standing O"), '60s-style classicists ("Sunloathe," "Capitol City") and close-miked folkies ("Open Mind," "Rising Red Lung").
Star Wars (2015)
The Whole Love struck a mature balance of eclecticism and cohesion: four years later, Wilco shattered that facade with a shot of irreverence and cheek.
Which starts with a hell of a title. "The album has nothing to do with Star Wars. It just makes me feel good," Tweedy said. "It makes me feel limitless and like there's still possibilities and still surprise in the world, you know?"
Across a tight 33 minutes, Wilco keep the proceedings fat-free, forward-thinking and relentlessly uptempo. "More…" is needle-sharp art-pop, "Random Name Generator" kicks the goofy Marc Bolan energy up to 10, and "You Satellite" builds a heavenbound momentum.
But when Wilco aren't in attack mode, Star Wars achieves an even greater resonance. "Taste the Ceiling" possesses the type of sticky melody that seems to naturally fall out of Tweedy's guitar, and poignantly broaches communication breakdown: "Try the words in sequence/ But that's never how its done."
And the push-pull closer "Magnetized" is plainly one of the most fascinating, emotionally incisive songs in their entire catalog: "I sleep underneath a picture that I keep of you next to me," Tweedy sings — and the swelling instrumentation is like a knot in your throat.
Imagine the irreverence of Star Wars translated to acoustic instrumentation, and you've got a good handle on Schmilco.
About that flippant, Nilssonesque title: "It's really, to me, inhibiting to take it so seriously, to treat it like it's so precious," Tweedy said at the time. I guess that's just a way to illustrate that, to some degree. Like, 'Hey, Wilco Schmilco, f—, I just wanna keep moving.'"
Schmilco feels like an intentionally minor effort — which isn't a flaw; it gives it an appealing je nais se quoi.
The hushed "If I Ever Was a Child" is a sunbeam gradually peeking over the horizon; "Common Sense" is charmingly lumpy, amelodic and disagreeable; "We Aren't the World (Safety Girl)" flips the cornball charity classic into a sarcastic missile.
Only the roving "Locator" goes electric — which reveals a shared DNA strand with its predecessor, and underlines its nature as something of a Star Wars companion album.
Ode to Joy (2019)
Even before the pandemic, racial spasms and Jan. 6 rattled the world, the news was fairly traumatizing. In response, Wilco made a rattled, whisper-quiet album about finding embers of love in a wasteland.
Several songs on Ode to Joy feel like ragged marches: behind the kit, Kotche opts not to flow, but trudge with grim resolve. Goes Tweedy's first line, from opener "Bright Leaves": "I don't like the way you're treating me." And man's inhumanity to man haunts everything in its wake.
"Remember when wars would end?" Tweedy sings gravely in "Before Us." "Now, when something's dead/ We try to kill it again." And Cline responds with a distant, ominous guitar scrape.
This haunted vibe makes Ode to Joy one of the most resonant latter-day Wilco albums. But levity does creep in — albeit with an implicit threat. "Everyone Hides" wittily prods at the flight side of "fight or flight."
And "Love is Everywhere (Beware)" carries a mightily resonant message: "The song is a reminder to myself to act with more love and courage and less outrage and anesthetized fear," Tweedy said.
Indeed, when world events inflamed our basest instincts, Tweedy dug deep within himself — and wrote a song that belongs in the Wilco time capsule.
Cruel Country (2022)
Cruel Country was cleverly marketed from the outset as "Wilco goes country"; its goofy advance single, "Falling Apart (Right Now)," was honky-tonk straight from the therapist's couch.
But when the album — their first double album since Being There — actually landed, it proved to be a more teeming and complicated beast.
Most of the material wasn't country at all: tunes like "The Empty Condor" and "Bird Without a Tail/Base of My Skull" were actually on Wilco's more outré end. And "Hearts Hard to Find" dealt in yet another side of Wilco: swoony folk-pop for a midsummer evening, a la "California Stars."
For all its multitudes, Cruel Country is a flowing, enveloping listen. And what binds this wealth of material is Tweedy's psychological incisiveness ("Tonight's the Day," "Tired of Taking it Out on You"), as well as commentary on America's Music and the nature of patriotism.
"It's really gratifying to feel like we made something that we very, very profoundly, deeply know we couldn't have made five years ago," Tweedy told GRAMMY.com at the time, "without all the miles that we've traveled together in between."
He then mentioned that the album's successor would contain "songs that really wouldn't fit into the Cruel Country landscape" — that they'd come across like "somebody dropped a weird shape into the desert."
And Tweedy was correct — partly thanks to a visionary outside producer.
Wilco has been a self-contained enterprise for ages. In the congested music industry, they self-produce; record in their private wonderland, The Loft; and mostly disregard traditional album cycles.
Perhaps this could be a double-edged sword — Wilco could have fallen into old habits as their 30th anniversary loomed.
Whatever the case may be, for that "weird shape in the desert," the band drafted Welsh musician and producer Cate Le Bon — to give their tried-and-true aesthetic a refreshing twist.
This partnership paid off handsomely: while Tweedy's songwriting is still very much Tweedy, Cousin has a taste and feel that doesn't resemble any past Wilco album.
"Infinite Surprise" hangs in a droning, digital ether that puts it somewhere in the taxonomy of Joni Mitchell's Taming the Tiger; "Levee" shimmers and sparkles like Wilco songs haven't really in the past; "Pittsburgh" is a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-level mind movie.
With Cousin, Wilco prove they can still find new avenues and corridors in their three-decade trajectory. And the continual state of guessing is what makes it so rewarding to be a Wilco fan. Or, in their words: infinite surprise.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc. via Getty Images
'Decoration Day' At 20: How Drive-By Truckers Dialed Back The Satire And Opened Their Hearts
On their divorce-themed fourth album 'Decoration Day,' the brilliant, perennially misunderstood Drive-By Truckers got realer than ever about family, divorce and the consequences of our choices.
It's a spine-tingling feeling for a Drive-By Truckers album to begin a cappella; although it's only happened on three of them, it feels like a trademark, a wink. And when singer, songwriter and co-leader Patterson Hood comes in alone, it's like a single lightbulb flaring up, illuminating the dusty air, brighter than creation's dark.
"By the time you were born, there were four other siblings/ With your mama awaiting your daddy in jail," Hood warbles through his mealy Alabaman twang at the top of 2002's Decoration Day — one of the cult rock band's most beloved albums. "And your oldest brother was away at a home/ And you didn't meet him 'til you were 19 years old."
So begins "The Deeper In," one of Drive-By Truckers' prettiest and most affecting songs. With immense pathos and an odd sense of sweetness, Hood tells the true story of a brother and sister falling in love with each other, having four babies and going to prison for their incestuous relationship.
Despite this unconventional and taboo subject matter, by the end of these three minutes and 16 seconds, even the uninitiated can behold the Truckers' giant, beating heart.
"It's not like they grew up together as brother and sister gettin' it on," Hood remembered more than a decade later. "They didn't meet until they were grown-ups, and it was just such a sad story.
"A lot of the people I write about are nothing like me, but there has to be some aspect to them that I can feel a certain empathy for or else I'm not interested in writing it," he continued. "I try never to be condescending to the characters I write about, even the really s—y ones."
Which makes it the perfect gateway to Drive-By Truckers' fourth album.
Named for the day that southern churches place fresh flowers on the graves of their ancestors, Decoration Day is their most vulnerable album by some margin, and a pivotal entry in the Athens, Georgia-formed rockers’ discography. On June 17, the album will ring in two decades in DBT fans' ears and hearts.
Since then, Drive-By Truckers have evolved from scrappy, brainy, misunderstood road dogs to a bona fide rock institution. And their ex-guitarist, singer and songwriter Jason Isbell — who made his precocious debut on Decoration Day — has led a GRAMMY-winning solo career that involves things like a GQ spread, an HBO doc and a forthcoming Martin Scorcese flick, Killers of the Flower Moon.
As such, the story of Decoration Day has necessarily been told and retold:
After three failed bands together, Hood and his partner and foil, Mike Cooley — two incredibly distinct yet totally simpatico songwriters — finally get their big break with their fourth. Afterward, their band tours for two years, wherein a gifted, 22-year-old upstart jumps in the van as third guitarist. Within two weeks, he writes two of their finest songs, "Outfit" and "Decoration Day."
Given their breakneck touring schedule, relationships frayed back home. Hood and Cooley write about the attendant emotions, and their lyrical references, characters and themes swirling into a matrix of grief, despondency and regret.
"Everyone in the band was either going through a divorce or on the verge of one when we made that record," Hood tells GRAMMY.com of Decoration Day. "Because that was about the time that we had really hit a tipping point of being on the road 200-plus days a year, and no one making any money. And everyone's wife's saying, 'F— this.' Except for Cooley's wife, who's still here."
But when they picked up their instruments, the result was explosive joy; Hood, Cooley and Isbell remember the Decoration Day era as an unmitigated blast. But more than on any past Drive-By Truckers album, their candid, evocative lyrics made the material penetrate the heart.
In a single line in the shattered "Sounds Better in the Song," Cooley seems to sum up Decoration Day in its totality: "I might as well have put that ring on her finger/ From the window of a van as it drove away."
While it's been beloved by fans since its release — and as Hood says, it still sells well today — Decoration Day can be somewhat subsumed by the two other major albums that precede and succeed it.
But while 2001's Southern Rock Opera and 2005's The Dirty South also represent DBT at their finest — full of crackling storytelling, elephantine performances, sticky melodies, and idiosyncratic turns of phrase — there's a case to be made for Decoration Day as their crown jewel.
Because from the album opener onward to "My Sweet Annette," "Heathens," "Sounds Better in the Song," and so many other tracks — Decoration Day is arguably the most personal and heart-forward album the Truckers ever made.
Drive-By Truckers' first two albums contained some of their most representative songs, like "The Living Bubba," "Uncle Frank," "Love Like This," and "One of These Days." Still, those tended to be sandwiched between a lot of goofs and piss-takes, from "Steve McQueen" to "The President's Penis is Missing" to "The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town."
As Isbell tells GRAMMY.com, Hood and Cooley's irrepressible humor and irony reached a crossroads on Southern Rock Opera.
"They finally fully accepted a persona, and wrote songs that were specifically for Southern Rock Opera, and a lot of those were in character," he says. "And I think once they did that, and got that out of their system, Hood and Cooley both felt freer to be themselves in songs, and take it a little bit more seriously."
Even when Hood sings in character — like the foreclosed farmer plotting a "banker man's" homicide in Decoration Day's one-take scorcher "Sink Hole" — there's a splash of real-life battery acid in his delivery; his fury feels wholly genuine.
Likewise, Cooley's "Marry Me" and Hood's "My Sweet Annette" — which Hood once characterized as "two very different views of marital bliss" — don't feel like character songs, despite being constructed as just that. Regardless of who the narrator is, Cooley's small-town bluster on the former, and Hood's pained, regretful delivery on the latter, hit you straight in the chest.
"Hell No, I Ain't Happy" represents the other side of the coin; between your ears and Hood's psyche, there are zero obfuscatory layers. The sound of an opening beercan kicks off one of Hood's most face-peeling meltdowns — capturing the mother of all ragged, unmoored days on the road.
"There's a purdy little girl outside the van window/ 'Bout 80 cities down, 800 to go," he roars. "Six crammed in, we ain't never alone/ Never homesick, ain't got no home."
"Outfit," Isbell's debut song for the Truckers, is also as real as it gets. A fabulously witty, detail-stuffed rundown of advice from his father, it remains one of his signature songs, a hollered audience request ever since.
Isbell calls Hood's loping, gorgeous ballad, "Heathens" his "favorite song of Patterson's — one of my favorite songs anybody's ever written." (Years after getting booted from the Truckers and cleaning up his act, Isbell covered the song for Hood's birthday; today, Hood says the two have grown especially close over the last few years.)
From there, the three songwriters keep slugging out impossibly great song after impossibly great song. The straight-ahead rocker "(Something's Got to) Give Pretty Soon" is one of the band's most perennially rewarding deep cuts — as well as one of their most raw-nerved.
"Maybe what you need is for someone to send you flowers/ Someone strong and mean who can prove he has the power to/ Show you more than charm and take you on your way/ To where you want to be at the end of the day," Hood sings. "And it breaks my heart in two to know it ain't meant to be."
"But it ain't me," he concludes.
In its final stretch, Decoration Day heads into more elliptical territory — starting roughly with Cooley's chilling "When the Pin Hits the Shell."
Following the title track — Isbell's steely-eyed chronicling of a festering feud between families — the album concludes with "Loaded Gun in the Closet," featuring Cooley at his elusive, riddling best. To overanalyze the lyrics would be to spoil the mystery of whether the gun was ever used — and if so, which of the unwitting spouses will end up on the business end.
As a whole, Decoration Day is an album that you can revisit over and over and over, and still perceive new shades of meaning.
"That whole album is really about love and loss and the choices you make," Hood said about a decade after the album's release. "Dealing with the consequences of the choices you make is a huge overriding theme."
Which applies whether you're an incestuous couple on the lam; an exhausted, punchy rock band barrelling through the middle of nowhere; or a dysfunctional couple with an exit strategy in a waiting firearm: it's all Decoration Day.
In his nigh-definitive breakdown of DBT's discography, writer and musician James Toth characterizes the band's following album, 2004's The Dirty South as such: "If the divorce-themed Decoration Day examines the destruction of a relationship, the glacial, smoldering The Dirty South sounds like the monstrous diesel engine garbage truck that comes to collect the detritus and run over the small pieces."
A remastered, expanded edition, The Complete Dirty South, which features vocal re-recordings and tunes meant to be on the original album, is out June 16 — a day before Decoration Day's 20th anniversary.
Coincidence or not, this proximity shows how Decoration Day profoundly widened their aperture, and allowed for that masterpiece in its own right. From there, the Truckers have continued to fine-tune all dimensions of their cockeyed universe — the personal, the political, the philosophical, the devastatingly funny. (Many of their songs being all four.)
Thereby, this so-called "Southern rock" band with a deliciously regrettable name were able to transcend their rough-and-ready original parameters, and write songs that shake you to your foundation — a giant handful of which can be found right there on Decoration Day.
One could go on and on. But it sounds better in the song.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.