When it comes to southern culture, Drive-By Truckers’ singer-guitarist Patterson Hood loves nothing more than to boot a sleeping dog square in the ass. On the Athens band’s last outing, Southern Rock Opera–a brilliant, lumbering survey of life below the Mason-Dixon line disguised as a celebration of Lynyrd Skynyrd–Hood exhumed Alabama governor George Wallace in order to analyze the demagogue’s popularity as well as his usefulness to northern snobs as a redneck bogeyman. Hood kicks off the Truckers’ latest, Decoration Day (New West), with “The Deeper In,” a tender love song based on the true story of “the only two people currently serving time in America for consensual brother/sister incest.” Hood provides the Truckers’ brains and maybe their conscience too, but this time around his bandmates contribute some of the most masterful songwriting. In Jason Isbell’s “Outfit,” a broken-down house painter tells his son to skip town before he’s doomed to follow in his daddy’s footsteps, but sends him off with advice like “Don’t sing with a fake British accent / Don’t act like your family’s a joke.” Mike Cooley swipes guitar licks from the Eagles’ “Already Gone” on “Marry Me,” a rocker about rejecting life on the road and its corollary crypto-misogynist outlaw ethos (“I’d rather be your fool nowhere / Than go somewhere and be no one’s”). On tracks like that one, the Truckers’ rhythm section gets closer than ever to their platonic ideal of Skynyrd boogie, though when tempos slow, their three guitars still create a grungy tangle that owes as much to Crazy Horse. At a moment when the stereotype of the lobotomized yahoo has once more hijacked popular culture–the number one country song right now is Toby Keith’s “Beer for My Horses,” a duet with Willie Nelson, of all people, that calls for the lynching of the “gangsters” who’ve taken over the streets–the south can use all the decent PR it can get. Saturday, July 19, 7:45 PM, Sheffield Garden Walk, Webster & Sheffield; 773-929-9255.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Wilds.