Drivin’ n’ Cryin’?
Growin’ up, I never gave ’em much thought. They played around the area quite a bit, were played on the radio, but I just never really dug their Southern Rock/metal sound. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have given them much thought had it not been for their ingenious “comeback” campaign a few years ago, wherein they released a handful of thematically-linked EPs–all of which were excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and happily reviewed them elsewhere. Thanks to my interest being piqued by those releases, I sought out the documentary on the band, Scarred But Smarter….and I have to say, man, I missed out.
To be sure, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ is a band lead by Kevn Kinney, a damn fine songwriter, and if there’s one word that describes the band’s history, it’s misunderstood. Here is a band that refused to stand still, and just when you think they’ve defined themselves–or, more correctly, just when those in control of the band’s career think they’ve defined the band–they do a switcharoo, one that’s often confounding. Here’s a band that began as a Southern indie-rock band a la their friends R.E.M. and get a record deal based upon their excellent debut album, Scarred But Smarter. They then…turn into a harder rock band with folk-rock leanings; major label debut Whisper Tames The Lion is an album of beauty,but thanks to producer Anton Fier, the record doesn’t sound like who the band was. No matter; when they set about making Mystery Road–which many people (yours truly included) happen to feel is their masterpiece–they have turned into a fine college-rock band that’s not afraid to rock out with heavy guitars while also throwing down a fine bluegrass hoedown or two.
If you think that they’ll let you be satisfied with that excellent album, well…Fly Me Courageous turns them into a hard rock band–giving them the oddly but not necessarily intentionally patriotic Gulf War anthem “Fly Me Courageous.” Follow-up to this success is their decision to be a full-on AC/DC-style balls-out, no apololgies metal band with their album, Smoke…at the height of Grunge, it was a career-killer. But hey, they turn into the Counting Crows-style mellow folk-rockers for follow-up Wrapped in Sky.
What makes these seemingly schizophrenic stylistic shifting even more frustrating is the fact that in spite of each album’s different sound..the results are excellent. It’s almost as if Kinney and bassist Tim Nielsen, drummer Jeff Sullivan, and recently deceased guitarist Buren Fowler had the Midas touch no matter what they did. Of course, this doesn’t mean that their times were easy–drug use, egos, more drug use, and label hassles were par for the course. But it didn’t really harm their music; even the unloved, misunderstood Smoke has its qualities, and Kinney isn’t quite willing to dismiss it. To be sure, there are hard moments in the film–watching a clearly drugged-out Kinney during the Smoke session is painful watching; you can see that the man is not in his head, and considering the evidence of his talent, what is meant to be “funny” is heartbreaking to watch.
But what makes the story great is knowing that Kinney beat his demons. He hit the point where he realized he could make music because he wanted to make it, not because he had to. Taking a few years off was a good decision, as their new music is tight, powerful, and as if they’ve never taken a decade off. Scarred But Smarter has a ton of great vintage footage, and captures the personality of these hard-working, no-nonsense Southern rockers, doing what they love and making some really great music in the meantime.