Town Burned Down is the long lost proto Drive-By Truckers album featuring Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. This was recorded in 1990. As a reminder, that’s before Nirvana’s Nevermind. The Adam’s House Cat album has sat unreleased until last week. The album has a sound informed by The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, and some R.E.M. (maybe a touch of early Clash) and was definitely ahead of its time. Hard to imagine if this album hadn’t been shelved that Patterson and Cooley wouldn’t be even more central to the Alt-Country genre. One they’d eventually become such a central part.
Instead, Uncle Tupelo, for many, have become the first chapter to that scene. No Depression, a music magazine that specializes in covering the genre was named after Uncle Tupelo’s first album, which was also released in 1990. So Town Burned Down is more than scrappy demos, but rather proof of an alternate music history that could have been, but wasn’t. But how does it sound?
There’s so much about the DBT sound and lyric approach that was fully formed on Town Burned Down, eight years before Gangstabilly, the first proper DBT album. They’re already singing about hopping on trains headed out of town (on two songs), complaining about paying taxes, and plenty of other Southern imagery. Which, of course, they’d later build a career by fully fleshing similar content into novel ready characters and cinematic worlds.
While the album would’ve been a revelation in 1990, had it been released and found the right hands, In 2018, this release is unlikely to appeal to folks who aren’t already holding a ticket for the DBT train. Town Burned Down works mostly as a novel, rollicking piece of Alt-Country history. And when listened to from that perspective, one of a rock historian, the story told by Adam’s House Cat, later to be Drive-By Truckers, is mind blowing.