Trucker Hood makes the drive solo at SECCA

by Josh Neas

Photo by Andy Tennille

“Y’all are awful rowdy for a seated room,” laughed Patterson Hood. Jovially tossed off between songs, his statement was a great summary of the 5th’ installment of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art’s Crossroads series. Hood, co-founder of the Drive-by Truckers, came into Winston-Salem along with his backing band the Downtown Rumblers in support of his forthcoming solo effort Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance. Two of the members of Hood’s band, Brad Morgan and Jay Gonzalez, are also members of Drive-by Truckers, so it came as no surprise when the sold-out audience began shouting out requests.

Opening with “Pride of the Yankees” from his 2009 solo album Murdering Oscar, it wasn’t long before Hood had to respond to the crowd. “I’ll play one old classic right now that we don’t play much if you guys will let me stick to my solo stuff the rest of the night,” Hood bargained before launching into the Truckers’ “Bulldozers and Dirt,” though it wouldn’t end up being the only Truckers song in the set. Later recalling his band’s 2006 album which was recorded in Winston-Salem in Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium studio, Hood would play the Truckers’ “Little Bonnie,” dedicating it to Easter as well.

Intermixing songs from the forthcoming album with ones from his previous solo outings and a couple of covers (“I always heard Winston-Salem was the only town in America to play the single off the first Big Star album,” Hood mused before launching into that band’s legendary “September Gurls”), Hood showed off an impressive range of songs that make solid arguments for his solo work’s placement alongside his usual band’s stellar catalogue. The new record’s title track is a moving rumination on the impact of the life of Hood’s late uncle, and the album also includes a song co-written and co-sung by fellow Georgia songwriter Kelly Hogan, “Come Back Little Star,” written in memory of songwriter Vic Chesnutt. Both were standouts of the evening. An encore at the end, encouraged by a boisterous audience, trotted out the lovely “Back of a Bible,” a love song to Hood’s wife originally, literally, written on the blank pages in the back of a hotel Bible, and a dance-inducing run at Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love,” long a staple of Drive-by Truckers shows and just as adroitly handled by Hood and company here.

Hood is a master storyteller and his drawling, nasal delivery was key to making every song, whether about rehab (“Betty Ford”), anxiety-ridden criminals (“Heavy and Hanging”) or the impending judgment of a thawed-out cartoonist (“Uncle Disney”), as filled with dread, levity and, ultimately, humanity. He’ has the storyteller’s supreme gift of showcasing the universal in the specific and the SECCA audience got a dynamic look at the power of his writing and performance.

Durham’s Hiss Golden Messenger opened the evening with a grooving, foot-tapping exploration of classic folk, country and roots music. The vehicle of songwriter MC Taylor, who doesn’t often play live, the band that evening included Brad and Phil Cook of fellow Durham band Megafaun, drummer Terry Lonergan, and banjo and percussionist Nathan Bowles. Taylor’s recent album Poor Moon has been getting large amounts of national acclaim, and it was obvious from the set that the critical laurels aren’t misguided. Opening their set by descending stairs from the back of the auditorium, one strummed acoustic guitar and fivepart harmonies in tow, the band proceeded to meander through a haunting set of material that was as moving emotionally as it was physically, many members of the audience swaying and bobbing heads in time with the majority of the band’s set.

The Crossroads series continues to draw spectacular musicians into the intimate confines of SECCA’s auditorium for what is becoming one of the best concert bets in the Triad, and Hood and Hiss Golden Messenger carried that tradition fully.