Drivin N Cryin – Live the Love Beautiful

Drivin N Cryin are one of the most consistent bands I’ve ever followed. And yet, like each of their shows is unique, every Drivin N Cryin album has its own personality. Early on, especially during their Island Records years, this seemed to be dependent as much on whatever producer they were paired with as anything else. Whatever the band’s intention, it’s clear that Anton Fier polished up their rough edges with Whisper Tames the Lion, and Geoff Workman crunched them into a commercial rock powerhouse with Fly Me Courageous and Smoke. Later, I’d venture to guess that shifts in the band’s personnel had more to do with each record’s disposition. Captured during Joey Huffman’s brief stint with the group, keyboards played a big role in the sound of 1995’s Wrapped in Sky, perhaps their most underrated album. Momentarily whittled back down to a three-piece, the self-titled 1997 album (re-released last year as Too Late to Turn Back Now) is infused with a thrilling rawness they hadn’t displayed since Scarred But Smarter. More recently, that series of excellent EPs found the band reinvigorated with the addition of Sadler Vaden on lead guitar.

And so, keeping with that precedent, Live the Love Beautiful doesn’t really sound quite like any Drivin N Cryin record before it. And yet, it is quintessentially Drivin N Cryin at their best.

Sadler’s moved on (joining Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit in 2015). So has his replacement, Aaron Lee Tasjan. Well, sort of. Aaron’s back to focusing on his solo career (he had a dandy little album called Karma For Cheap come out last year on New West), but he took enough of a break to produce his favorite band of all time’s new album. Which he also plays guitar, piano and organ on, but Live the Love Beautiful primarily features Drivin N Cryin’s newest lead guitarist. No, not Warner Hodges, who filled in for a while before getting back on the road with Homemade Sin. The newest new lead guitarist for Drivin N Cryin is Estonia-born scamp Laur Joamets, who joined the fold in 2017 after four years earning accolades in Sturgill Simpson’s band. So while DNC’s other recent guitarists departed the band to move on to seemingly bigger things, Joamets left Simpson’s party while it was hot and getting hotter. I’m still convinced he’s gonna ditch DNC to hook up with Steve Earle & the Dukes or something, fitting DNC’s pattern of late, but for now he’s solidly on board. And whoa, what sheer might and texture he adds to the band here!

Take “If I’m Not There I’ll Be Here,” a concentrated churner that, around the two-minute mark, erupts into a ferocious meat-eatin’ solo that only intensifies the song’s thick psychedelic spindrift. Climaxing with a machine gun drum flurry worthy of Iron Maiden, this track in particular sounds nothing like anything the band has put to wax before.

But like all DNC albums, there’s a wealth of variety. Rock anthems. Folksy reflections. Punchy garage rock. Things that are almost power-pop. Southern rock. The gentle strummy jangle of “Over and Over” fits its nostalgic glance back: “I bought my own record from 1985. Side one, song three. I must’ve been in love…” Is Kevn Kinney talking about “Another Scarlet Butterfly” here, or “Dime a Dozen” from Everything Looks Better in the Dark? Or is it all just made up to set the scene? Kevn’s such a masterful, painter-like storyteller that every song he sings sounds autobiographical. I’m pretty sure most are, at least in part.

I’d be sorta let down if “Ian McLagan” isn’t a true story. Coming in Live the Love Beautiful’s home stretch, it’s both its best song and one that, given a few lyrical tweaks, could just as easily have been written about Kevn Kinney himself. An inspiring portrait of a musician who, despite making little money and being overlooked by the masses, keeps doing it for the pure love of playing music, it’s a personal homage from Kinney to the onetime Faces/Small Faces keyboardist, who passed away in late 2014. “The last time that I saw you,” the song begins, “you were carrying your gear in the rain, down the alley at Yard Dog after playing all day with your friends.” I mean, I couldn’t count how many times I’ve seen Kevn in comparable settings. (And I wonder if it’s deliberate how this mirrors the opening of Cat Power’s “I Don’t Blame You,” written about another musician under a different set of circumstances, where fame has sucked the joy out of music and performing.) Later in the same song, Kevn meets Ian and asks him for advice. “He said, ‘Some people, they do one thing and talk about it all of their lives. And some people, they keep doin’ – it’s what keeps you alive.’” That’s Drivin N Cryin ca. 2019 in a nutshell, right there.

Certainly not everything on Live the Love Beautiful suits the following summary, but, from the album title to songs such as “What’s Wrong With Being Happy,” there’s a feeling of optimism present, or if not optimism then at least resilience in the face of disappointment and hardship. Some people (and bands), they keep doin’. It’s what keeps them alive. Maybe everything looks better in the light.

Drivin N Criyin
Live the Love Beautiful
[Drivin N Cryin]