While some people were relieved that truckin' songs fell silent after the Bandit and Convoy movies did, others, many others still hold a special place for this genre. Both my father and brother were over-the-road truckers, but after the radio bombardment of "East Bound and Down," I didn't think I could ever listen to that song again, even if Jerry Reed hopped out of his grave to sing it to me personally. Enough was enough...
Well, I was wrong.
Country music performer Aaron Tippin wants a trucker-song revival--"This album launches my crusade to bring the music back." A brief perusal of the songlist for Tippin's latest release "in overdrive" proves he's serious. There is a classic compendium of truck driving tunes that span the history of country music including two crossover hits made famous through motion picture soundtracks. Unlike the various artists' truckin' compilations available, Tippin and his band personalize and perform each of his selections.
"It's part of my chemical makeup, I guess. I love the way the trucks look, the shine, the mechanics, the ride, roar, and the ruckus you feel when you pass a monster convoy or experience hundreds of tough-looking rigs rolling into a trucking convention or NASCAR race."
There's something compelling, and even contemporary, about these songs. It's all about the ongoing story playing out across the U.S. It's the romance of endless miles of asphalt rushing beneath an 18-wheeler. It's the rumbling of diesel power and jake-brakes. It's a driver looking out his/her windshield and seeing familiar places that are thousands of miles from their home.
From the listener's point of view, it can be just plain fun.
Though some are very familiar, here's a quick synopsis of the lesser-known tracks:
"Chicken Truck"—You can do the Chicken Dance to the chorus of this ditty about being stuck behind a trucker hauling chickens.
"The Ballad of Danger Dave and Double Trouble"—the Hot Rod Lincoln for truckers.
"Six Days on the Road"—Classic early-1960s tune that helped launch the genre. Originally recorded by the inimitable Dave Dudley.
"Long White Line"—Old love-gone-wrong Bluegrass tune gets a full country makeover.
The last two tracks on the CD are Tippin originals. “Drivin' Fool” slides right in with the other tunes, opening with dialogue and then offering a driver's prayer for safe passage over the road. “Fool” points up Tippin's personal appreciation for the hard-working drivers this album is dedicated to. The final cut, “Drill Here, Drill Now,” is not like anything else on the album. If the previous songs were prose, this one is the exclamation point, a rockin' proclamation of petroleum emancipation. Its unfettered honesty hits directly at gut level. There are no misty shades of gray on this one. It's simple, strong, and an effective parting shot.
If you haven't guessed, Aaron Tippin is a singer/songwriter and front man of his band. His vocals are powerful and clear, sitting right up front in the mix. His vocal style is more retro than most contemporary country, making healthy use of his breathy drawl. He's able to flavor his drawl to the content of each song it seems–turning it up and toning it down like a reverb channel. Tippin is less effective on "talky" numbers like Jay Huguely's (Cleddus Maggard) “White Knight.” While most trucking songs may stand the test of time, those that reference the trite CB lexicon of the 1970s-1980s are an immediate turnoff (sorry, good buddy--yecch)! To be fair, it's more the song than the songster, but I'm sorry to see this kitschy song make the cut. In the same breath, I'm giving "Chicken Truck" a pass because it's less pretentious and a lot more fun.
As a compilation of sorts, “in overdrive” exhibits a stellar performance by all. Kudos to the backup vocalists (which include wife Thea Tippin) and the musical ensemble. Tippin's musicians are a tight group. It seems every aspect of performance and production was packaged tighter than a speedo on a sumo wrestler. On both headphones and hi-fi system, I was amazed by the crystal clarity. I prefer more almonds in my trail mix and more distortion in my country mix, but for most people it's more a blessing than a curse, particularly since it's great for cutting through road noise while listening in your truck.
"I've had my heart set on doing this album for a long time," Tippin states. His love for the genre, and the people that inspired it, is evident. If you're a country fan you'll find his voice powerful and highly listenable. The trucking crowd has a strong voice in its corner with Aaron Tippin.
TO SUM UP
Four stars out of five. This is a good collection of songs honoring long-haul truckers. There's fun, respect, and reverence in these choices and it's reflected in Tippin's solid performance.
About the Album
Nippit Records/Country Crossing Records
Produced by Aaron Tippin and Tim Grogan
1. East Bound and Down
2. Truck Drivin' Man
3. Drivin' My Life Away
4. Six Days on the Road
5. Chicken Truck
6. The Ballad of Danger Dave and Double Trouble
7. Prisoner of the Highway
8. Girl on the Billboard
9. Long White Line
10. Movin' On
11. White Knight
12. Roll On
13. Drivin' Fool
14. Drill Here, Drill Now
Pat Buchanan - Electric Guitar
Tim Grogan - Drums
Brent Mason - Electric Guitar
Darrin Vincent - Harmony
Bobby Lovett - Banjo, Electric Guitar
Dave Sloas - Harmony
Rod Lewis - Bass
Rich Herring - Acoustic Guitar
Thea Tippin - Harmony
Jerry Roe - Drums
Mike Johnson - Steel Guitar
With a look that's part Susan Powter and part Sam Elliott, Tippin's visual persona has "seasoned,” moving beyond his earlier M&M (mustache and mullet) phase. His songs still resound with the vibrancy of a young man proud of his country, heritage, and tradition. Country music took 9/11 very personally and spoke up immediately. Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" brought cheers from fellow Americans as it shot to the top of the chart. For a little less bite, Tippin's kinder, gentler "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly" resonates with the home crowd on a more nationalistic, less boot-up-their-a** level than Keith. Like other country and rock musicians, Tippin provides entertainment for our armed forces overseas. Beginning with his first trip during Desert Storm in the 1990s, he's performed for troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Judging by the intensity of his performance on this CD, I'm sure Tippin provides one rousing live show.
For more information, visit www.aarontippin.com