Patterson Hood described Drive-By Truckers' acclaimed 2003 album Decoration Day as “an album about choices, good and bad, right and wrong, and the consequences of those choices." His latest solo venture, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, is replete with the sort of ruminations and introspection fans have come to expect, but nearly ten years since Decoration Day, Hood—who’s weathered divorce, remarriage, children, and a tumultuous twelve years fronting DBT—has clearly matured.
The most marked change in the album is the semi-autobiographical bent of its stories and characters. Known for his vivid depictions of Southern tropes—from incest to murder to clannish communities and familial ties—Hood shifts his focus to his own life. The two most pronounced periods he depicts are 1) the early ’90s, before his great successes as an artist, in which he was a man made abject by divorce and despair, and 2) the present day, in which he puts things into perspective.
This is by far the most personal music we’ve ever heard from Hood, and these narratives bring out a more soulful sonic feeling. Don’t expect too many heavy-hitting Southern rock tunes here. This album’s more “The Deeper In” than “Sink Hole.” Some of the stories and scenes are almost literary in tone—Hood recalls hayrides of his childhood, youth-group lock-ins, rare Southern snowfalls, adultery, escape. He even delves farther back in time, somewhat dispelling the clichés that belie his grandfather’s generation in “Depression Era.”
The album is neither entirely autobiographic nor an individual effort, though. “Come Back Little Star” was a collaboration with Kelly Hogan, who wrote the song’s lyrics (in memory of Vic Chesnutt) and lends pretty harmonies. Other contributors to the album include DBT band mates Mike Cooley, Jay Gonzalez, Brad Morgan, and John Neff, as well as members of Centro-matic from Athens and his father, David Hood. As Hood’s third solo album, it’s his best yet.