Overall, the music sounds fresh and avoids the pitfalls of cliché southern rock while clearly drawing from southern tradition. Flawless performances and hearty production showcases creative songwriting that feels American through-and-through.
The band is very excited about the record. At their website, drivebytruckers.com, they include all the lyrics and they shared their enthusiasm:
"You're always hesitant to say, 'Oh, this is the best record we've ever made,'" Cooley says, "because you always want to. And sometimes you say it, and sometimes you're right, and sometimes you think, 'Well, maybe I jumped the gun on that a little bit, I got excited.' But I think this just might be the best record we've ever made."
Hood concurs enthusiastically: "It's my favorite thing that we've ever done. I'm proud of our catalog – we always try to make as good a record as we can make. Sometimes things just work. This time, we made kind of a magical record. I've always felt that Decoration Day was our best record, and this is the first one that I think is a better record than that was. Every piece of the puzzle fit."
Through the years, Drive-By Truckers have gone through several lineup changes. On this album, co-founding members Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals) and Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals) are supplemented by Brad Morgan (drums), Matt Patton (bass, vocals), and Jay Gonzalez (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals). The band sounds extremely tight, showing an ability to play transfixing rock grooves while showcasing some nice guitar licks and piano parts.
There's something mysterious about this album, starting with the name English Oceans and the album cover. Are these two guys Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood?
"Pauline Hawkins" is one of the more twangy country songs, but balances guitar bite with the spaced out fuzzy psychedelic rock. If you enjoy a wide variety of guitar sounds, you will love English Oceans. Crunchy distorted tones play off of sweet pure sounds and there's lots of 'air guitar' moments.
"Made Up English Oceans," "The Part of Him," and "Til He's Dead Or Rises" show the band focusing on social, religious, and political issues. The lyrics can be ambiguous, or direct. Loud guitars and drums sometimes obscure the words as the vocal just acts like another melodic instrument in a brew of sound. Repeated listens offer unfolding messages that can show varied meanings, which is a hallmark of timeless storytelling.
The final 2 songs, "First Air Of Autumn" and "Grand Canyon," form a satisfying conclusion to the record as everything winds down and the big picture seems to open up a little more. It's a long record, but but a damn good one.