Drive-By Truckers: The New OK review – unflinching protest rock

The US rockers rail against Trump, fascism and police violence in their second album this year

While the sheer awfulness of Donald Trump’s presidency has inspired protest songs from across the spectrum of musical genres over the past four years, rock bands have been relatively quiet. Not so Alabama-via-Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers: coming only 11 months after their album The Unraveling tackled issues such as migrant children in cages and the US’s opioid epidemic, The New OK feels like a companion record, an unflinching, reportage-driven verdict on a tumultuous year and a deeply damaging presidential term that has polarised their country.

The rousing The Perilous Night, in particular, is unambiguously apocalyptic, with Patterson Hood singing: “Fascism’s knocking and Trump says ‘Let them in’”, and warning of “flags of oppression” that are “blocking out the light”. Sarah’s Flame, meanwhile, is cloaked in deceptively gentle swaying country rock but rails against Sarah Palin for preparing the ground for “fat Donnie”. Elsewhere, the anger is replaced with a sense of helplessness at the collapse of order in the more reflective Watching the Orange Clouds, written in response to the protests – and counter-protests – in Hood’s adopted home town of Portland, Oregon, following the killing of George Floyd. (In that respect it feels like a sequel to 2016’s What It Means, a powerful rumination on the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.) At a time of such division, it’s a startlingly brave record and all the more necessary for it.

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