Drivin’ N’ Cryin’: Archives Vol. 1 ’88-’90 (Plowboy Records)

In a just world, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ would be spoken of with the same reverence as R.E.M. and Uncle Tupelo as purveyors and innovators of a New American Rock sound, one based in folk and roots-rock, yet expansive enough to encompass country and underground independent rock. Instead, they’ve always been the scrappy underdogs, the scruffy rockers who put in the same amount of effort yet didn’t see the same reward or accolades as their peers. But the funny thing about scrappy underdogs is that occasionally they do get the recognition they deserve, albeit belated, and over the past few years, that’s exactly what’s happened.

Archives Vol. 1 ’88—’90 offers up eleven songs from Kevn Kinney’s Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ archives, and though the collection doesn’t provide much information about the songs, it doesn’t matter; even in their unguarded, unpolished, rawest moments, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ could deliver a great song, thanks in part to Kinney’s charming Southern drawl, which could range from Bob Dylan husky to choirboy sweet, a mixture of innocence and experience which could easily be adjusted to suit the needs of the song. Ranging from hard Southern Rock to delicate, intimate folk, a Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ album could and often did scale an impressive stylistic range.

If you’re concerned that these being outtakes and demos means a lack of quality, don’t; the tenderness found on “If I’m Not There” and “Midwestern Blues” makes one wonder just exactly why they lingered in the vault so long, The raw, raunchy “Look What You’ve Done” and “Acceleration” sound just like what one expects from Kinney and company, especially when compared to “Wrapped In Sky,” a scorching rocker fused together with a superb cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” But the jewels found here are truly puzzling in their obscurity; “Highway 316” finds the band pulling off a damn near perfect ’65 Bob Dylan & The Band impersonation, a fun, jaunty studio jam, while “Good Times Café” is a classic Southern blues rocker that should have found a home on Fly Me Courageous, the band’s Southern Rock fluke hit from 1990.

Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ is a band in dire need of a revival, with a woefully out-of-print back catalog full of superb albums. The band’s third album, Mystery Road, is getting a much-deserved deluxe reissue treatment next week. That’s a start, though; Archives Vol 1. ’88-’90 might not seem to be the best starting place for a listener new to the band, but yet, it offers everything that makes the other albums in the band’s discography so delightful and is a wonderful document of what makes this band so special.

Archives Vol. 1 ’88-’90 is available now from Plowboy Records.

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