In The Beginning: The Drive-by Truckers and Adam's House Cat's Town Burned Down
I first heard their song, "Runaway Train," after downloading it on Ninebullets.net a few years ago and was hooked. I hope it someday gets an official release, but tracks have turned up on the internet and the Truckers have streamed it on their Facebook page. A few tracks can be found on YouTube, at least for now. Archive.org hosts an excellent live reunion show Live at Nuci's Space from December 1st, 2006 that captures the power and variety of AHC.
The band existed between 1985 and 1991 and their sole album was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1990. It contains many rocking tunes, a few of which have been rerecorded by the Truckers. Patterson Hood reflected on the album in a Facebook note on DBT's beginnings on November 2, 2011 that I recommend checking out. The band began when Hood "accidentally" moved in with Cooley and the two began playing guitar together. He tells the whole story on Facebook, and how it has governed most of DBT's business decisions. Adam's House Cat broke up the week before "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was released. Arguably, they would have taken part in an equally rewarding musical direction that was being pursued at the time by the likes of Uncle Tupelo and The Bottle Rockets.
The album rocks from the opening chords of "Town Burned Down," guitars wailing and Hood's vocals recalling punk rock as much as southern rock. The track feels like R.E.M. covering X with Skynyrd guitars. The narrator runs away from the town as it burns, and there is a sense of joy in the departure. "Runaway Train" barrels out of the box like a metaphorical train, foreshadowing the phenomenal Trucker's song, "Tornadoes." Hood sings, "Me and my baby's on a runaway train / on a runaway train / on a runaway train" before the band kicks into high gear. "Child Abuse" is slower, but the pressure never lets off. Hood's lyrical bent and storytelling ethos are evident from the very beginning. You can tell that he and Cooley had aspirations to escape their apartment as most of these songs follow the age old rock and roll theme of getting out alive.
Some songs are pensive like "A Long Time Ago" and "Lookout Mountain," which was later recorded by the Truckers in a more considered version for The Dirty South. The AHC version is more desperate, if the musicianship is not as good with a crazier guitar solo. "Picture of Elvis Cured My Cancer" is an early masterpiece from the first hand claps. They explore death and life in a very southern manner that would not be fully explored until Southern Rock Opera. All are very literate for such a young band.
The final songs return to rock. "Since You Came Into My Life" is a rave up; the lyrics recall later Ramones, while the music borders on metal. "Smiling At Girls" reveals a happier side. Hood sings, "Notify my next of kin / I've been doing it again / Smiling at Girls" along to bouncy and minimal music. The song might be little more than a sketch, but it's fun. "Santa's Out of Rehab for Christmas" is a retread on the old drunken Santa/ daddy is Santa chestnut, but continues the happy, yet messed up direction of latter half of the album. "Nine Bullets" is the album's best song, and most evident marker of what was to come. The band rerecorded it for 1999's Pizza Deliverance, but this version isn't much different. The story of a depressed man who is going to use his roommate's gun to make his life better is still one of the best DBT songs, surprisingly clever even after many listens.
Town Burned Down is a catchy and varied record. DBT fans who haven't heard it should do their best to hear it immediately. The Americana crowd will eat it up. Others who like their music with a tinge of humor and plenty of pathos should also pick it up. Here's to hoping it gets issued. Many of the early efforts of far lesser bands have been issued, and Adam's House Cat certainly deserves the attention and the listens.
Read Patterson's Note
Listen to Live At Nuci's and read A Truer Sound's Review of the Show
Listen to "Runaway Train"
Listen to "Town Burned Down"
Listen to "Santa's Out of Rehab by Christmas"