It seems like most things the Drive-By Truckers do have a story, and usually a damn good one. Town Burned Down, the only album recorded by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley’s pre-DBT band Adam’s House Cat, is no exception. Originally tracked in a single day in a cavernous space above the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio way back in 1990, it’s the sound of a young band dreaming big. But their hopes of landing a record deal and making it big blew away in a storm now familiar to DBT fans as the story told in The Dirty South classic ‘Tornadoes’ and the band would split before Town Burned Down ever saw a release. Then the masters, shipped off to a studio in Jackson were destroyed in a…wait for it…tornado. But in 2015 producer David Barbe found a box of old tapes and Hood re-recorded some of the vocals so that, 30 years on, we can enjoy this snapshot in time.
Drive-By Truckers fans will find this at once fresh and familiar. Town Burned Down opens with ‘Lookout Mountain’, but not the hard and heavy rocker DBT fans know as the closing track from The Dirty South. This early version, like the entire record, is country punk, raw and ready, a sound that emerged across the South in the 80s and 90s as kids mixed the sounds of their parents’ record collection with the sounds on the radio. And ‘Lookout Mountain’ is not the only familiar cut. ‘Buttholeville’ would be re-recorded for the Truckers’ debut Gangstabilly, while the standout ‘Runaway Train’ has been a live favourite.
The playing is loose, but the band is anchored by the drumming of Chuck Tremblay, who was a good decade older than his other band mates but put his experience to good use holding it all together for his younger cohorts. Raw and ready, yes, but amid the punk ethos the attention and craft later put into DBT’s songwriting is already apparent, nowhere more so than on ‘Runaway Train’, a simple and direct song which may have been lost for decades but still sounds like a standard.
Adam’s House Cat were never destined to make it big, and several years would pass between their splitting and Hood and Cooley reuniting to form the Truckers. But in these early recordings we can hear the basic building blocks for one of the best active bands in the United States today.