January 10, 2005

Patterson Hood "Killers and Stars"

Divorce. It's a painful, traumatic event--one that causes a great amount of stress, heartbreak and anger, often permanantly. For many musicians, this pain can produce some painfully beautiful music (Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks) or this pain can produce some music that's painful to listen to (Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear). Regardless of the musician's choice of style, whenever real pain is involved, it coats their work with a sensitivity and a vulnerability that cannot be replicated.

For Patterson Hood, the mastermind behind Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, 2001 was a helluva bad year. From a divorce to problems with his band to unspecified "personal demons" were making a wreck of his life. In an effort to deal with his problems, he sat down in his kitchen with his guitar and recorded and recorded and recorded. "Therapy, or an exorcism or whatever," he says of this session. He then took the resulting tracks, burned a few hundred CD's and packaged it as his solo album, labeled as a "work in progress." After a recent listen, he decided to reissue it as is, considering it a statement of where his life was back in 2001.

While I'd never be one to find enjoyment in another man's obvious pain, Killers and Stars proves to be a compelling listen--a waltz through the struggles of a troubled soul. Hood sings in a pained twang. "Rising Son" find Hood listing his transgressions and failings, in a quite pointed manner, talking about how he is his father's pride, tempered with his own failures at the hands of success--and then you realize he's simply relaying his life in terms of the prodigal son. "Fire" also speaks of destruction: "Everything changes so fast you never know/Only ashes remain of everything I own." His cover of Tom T. Hall's "Pay No Attention to Alice" is also touching--making you wonder who he is directing the song to--his ex-wife? A wayward band member? Himself?

Don't think it's all sad, though; there's a bit of humor in his hurt. Opening track "Uncle Disney" starts the album off with a smile: "When they thaw out Uncle Disney/Gonna be some changes made," and then he runs down how shocked and appalled Disney might be about his once golden empire. "Belinda Carslile Diet" is an interesting, funny (in a painful kind of way) take on the former Go-Go's lifestyle: "Cocaine and milkshakes, milkshakes, cocaine/I can't stand to feel the pain." She's not the only celebrity he calls on the carpet, though; album closer "Cat Power" is a pointed commentary directed towards Cat Power, and he asks the question I've always wondered, too: "I don't mean to sound unsympathetic to your plight/but if you're really so shy/why are you standing in the light?"

Killers and Stars is a stark, uneasy listen. Hood's a talented man--his band's critical acclaim is well-deserved, and this little side-project. This is the true realization of 'the blues' and Hood should be thanked for taking the time to allow the general population to hear his heart break.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.drivebytruckers.com
Label Website: http://www.newwestrecords.com

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