Patterson Hood : Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance

For his third solo outing, Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood mined his experiences in Memphis, Tennessee, during a dark period that nearly saw him give up on most everything he loved, including his life. Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance was originally conceived as a novel, but it was brought into this world as a highly introspective song-cycle that paints a shadowy picture of desperate characters in downtrodden times.

Dust-brushed elegance emanates from these burned-out tales, beginning with “12:01,” a desolate image of midnight loss and the personal resignation of a broken man. It is all nerves and blood, harrowing in its simplicity and detached emotion. The spoken word narrative of “(untold pretties)” listens like a short-story, and imbues a hard-breathing urgency, in contrast to the spry strumming and spirit of “Disappear.” The crowning composition on Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance is “Come Back Little Star,” originally written by Kelly Hogan – albeit unfinished – about the late Vic Chesnutt. Hood finished the song and invited Hogan to sing along with him, creating a single that is as beautiful as it is sad, a column of light shining through sepia undercurrents.

More than anything, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance imbues an extremely personal feel. Hood turns down the  din of guitars and hollers from his day job as a Trucker, pulls back his raucous exterior, and uncovers a hurting heart. These are songs of distance and departing; whether by choice or by force, for love or for music. Patterson Hood communicates this with a scarred perspective, proving yet again that he is one of the finest songwriters of his generation.

Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance is out now on ATO Records.