Sunday, August 9, 2009

Album Review: Patterson Hood - Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)

Patterson Hood, also known as the lead singer of Drive-By Truckers, has been working on the group of songs on Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) for years.  It’s no wonder, however, that he only recently got a chance to record them.  The Truckers had an album out in 2008 (Brighter Than Creation’s Dark), backed Booker T on an album this year (Potato Hole), and toured in support of both.

Murdering Oscar is Hood’s second album of solo material.  As with Killers and Stars, the songs here have a more personal feel.  However, unlike the vocal-and-guitar format of the first record, the arrangements here are more robust.

A strong supporting cast aids Hood on Murdering Oscar, including members of DBT and Hood’s own father, veteran Muscle Shoals session bassist David Hood.  John Neff’s pedal steel, in particular, is instrumental in painting the sepia-toned Southern portrait of life on songs like “Belvedere” and “The Range War.”

The arrangements are still sparse in comparison to a full band DBT album, the biggest indicator that this is a solo record for an uninformed listener.  “Grandaddy” and “She’s a Little Randy” are almost exclusively Hood singing over his guitar.

Hood has a knack for vivid storytelling in his songs, focusing on the downtrodden working class much like Bruce Springsteen.  However, while Springsteen’s characters were New Jersey city kids, the ones on Murdering Oscar are distinctly more Southern.  Fittingly, many of the tracks presented here take a melancholy tone. 

“I Understand Now,” perhaps the most upbeat track, is also the album’s most accessible.  A few peppy songs like it sprinkled throughout might have evened out Murdering Oscar’s tone a little and made for a more complete album experience.

Despite the strengths of the individual tracks, Truckers vocalist/guitarist Mike Cooley is missed here.  The interplay between Cooley’s songs and Hood’s songs are what make the DBT so intriguing as a band; fans of the band might be left wishing for a few Cooley tracks. 

Though definitely worth a look, Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) might be a little too dense for listeners who aren’t already fans of Drive-By Truckers.

Hipster Rating: 5/10

Actual Rating: 6/10
Download: “I Understand Now,” “Belvedere”

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