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

Patterson Hood, the leader of the Drive-By Truckers, recorded his first solo album in 2001 as a series of rough four-track demos, and when Killers and Stars finally received an official release in 2004, it sounded like a set of songs too eccentric and too personal to fit in with the Truckers’ hard-driving approach, even though the quality of the material was certainly consistent with what he’d created with the group. In many respects, Hood’s second solo set, 2009’s Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs), is also dominated by songs a little too odd and close to the vest to make it onto a DBT album, but if Killers and Stars sounded heartfelt but tentative, Murdering Oscar is confident and full-bodied, and not just because most of these songs include a full band rather than just Hood and his guitar. With each album, the Drive-By Truckers have shown a willingness to reach for deeper themes, and Murdering Oscar consistently cuts closer to the bone than Killers and Stars; the post-9/11 malaise of “Pride of the Yankees,” the wasted but honest romantic plea of “Back of a Bible,” and the title tune’s tale of a morally elastic hitman are all trickier, more complex, and more satisfying than anything on Hood’s solo debut, and even the relatively lightweight numbers like “Walking Around Sense” (addressed to the daughter of a seriously dysfunctional rock star) and “Foolish Young Bastard” show an impressive amount of weight and muscle. Hood may not have a silky-smooth voice, but he’s learned to work wonders with the smoky texture of his instrument, and Hood has rarely been in better form as a singer than he is on this album, conjuring a beautifully rough-hewn blue-eyed soul. And with a band featuring DBT drummer Brad Morgan, Scott Danbom and Will Johnson from Centro-Matic, and Patterson’s father, David Hood (longtime bassist with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section), and sympathetic production assistance from David Barbe, Murdering Oscar has a sound that’s not entirely removed from the Drive-By Truckers, but possesses a personality and feel that sets it apart and well suits this set of dark but compassionate character studies. Presumably it’s not enough for Patterson Hood that he fronts one of the best rock bands in America — Murdering Oscar shows him stepping into an equally impressive solo career, but when the songs he’s set aside for himself are this good, you can’t blame the man for wanting to share.