Given the tear-stained, acerbic nature of the songs contained within It’s Great To Be Alive, a thirty track live album from perennial genre favourites Drive By Truckers, one could be forgiven for assuming the title was an example of wry irony. But one would be misled. By the time the mammoth record has done spinning, one is left with an odd sense of elation. Listening to the thing has a profoundly affecting quality; it’s cathartic; it’s harsh; but by the end one wanders away feeling more uplifted than upset.
The majority of the band’s vast back catalogue is represented. Included are songs from Southern Rock Opera, the epic double album that earned the band their very first glimpse of cult fame; all the way up to English Oceans, their tender and tragic recent release. Best of all, the early stuff sits nicely next to the contemporary work, and a track like Ronnie and Neil feels comfortably placed beside the more recent Gravity’s Gone.
Though Drive By Truckers have always stayed true to a very particular style, they never fall into lazy navel-gazing, and each track of this staggering work feels new and inventive. The slow build power of A World of Hurt is a different entity entirely to the more ‘typical’ strains of Primer Coat, but both share the DBT DNA.
Track by track, chorus by chorus, It’s Great To Be Alive reveals Drive By Truckers to be unequalled storytellers. Used to Be A Cop, the seven minute epic that time may well reveal to be their magnum opus, is as literate and dark as anything Raymond Chandler put to paper, and it’s grim noir nihilism becomes increasingly effecting with every listen.
Drive By Truckers fans will be delighted. But, just as importantly, so will those who have never before encountered the band. Like a set of crib notes, or an architectural sketch, this is a brief, thrilling look at a whole world; less an album than an introduction to a way of life.