In his long tenure with the Drive-By Truckers, Patterson Hood has garnered a reputation for being one of the most provocative voices of modern Southern rock. It’s hard to poke any holes in his resume, what with a whole rock opera about Lynyrd Skynyrd, and, given that his father is legendary bassist David Hood, even the man’s genetics are bona fide.
What Hood cannot escape, however, is that sometimes he is the third best songwriter in his own band. His compositions are long on repeated choruses and bluster, and only rarely reaching the transcendence of his best work, such as “Life in the Factory” or “The Righteous Path.” With this tendency toward artistic bloat, a second solo album seems like a dicey proposition. Added to this is the memory that the highlight of Hood’s first solo disc, Killers and Stars, was a Tom T. Hall cover, and contained a song whose lyrics were mainly a combination of “milkshakes and cocaine.”
Expectations are therefore understandably guarded about Murdering Oscar, Hood’s second collection. Though well short of a new Truckers album, Hood pulls something of a fast one on Murdering Oscar. He expands the sound palette with a once and future collection of Drive-By Truckers and his famous father. The result is unexpectedly funky and extremely listenable, but once again slightly deficient in the lyrics department.
Hood deserves respect for ceding some of the spotlight on Murdering Oscar to his supporting players. Of particular note are the bass lines laid down by the elder Hood. There are very few times when the lower register is memorable, much less the focal point of any song; the three tracks on which he appears give the bottom its due. Also notable is the keyboard, which is a recent addition to Truckers line-up. As most of the material on Murdering Oscar predates Southern Rock Opera, it’s interesting to see that Hood was composing with the instrument in mind so early on in his career.
The playing on the album is strong throughout, and unfortunately the lyrics don’t quite pass muster. Though Hood acquits himself nicely, none of the songs rank near the top of his considerable artistic output. There are no egregious missteps, but there also isn’t anything that his fans will be calling out for in concert. Even if Murdering Oscar is technically a solo album, Hood would have done well to be as generous with his lyrics as he was with his melodies.