More than a decade before Drive-By Truckers released their first album, singer-songwriters Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood formed a fledgling North Alabama band called Adam’s House Cat. The group, which included Chuck Tremblay on drums and a revolving door of bassists, was more openly influenced by its mid-late 80’s indie contemporaries than the history-obsessed Truckers, who would take on more anachronistic subject matter when they began making their Skynyrd-obsessed Southern-punk later in the mid-late 90’s.
Town Burned Down, the sole lost album from Adam’s House Cat that’s now being released for the first time, lays bare the band’s many influences. The 1990 LP offers a revealing glimpse into the type of music–primarily reverb heavy college rock–Cooley and Hood were most infatuated with as young twentysomething’s (Cooley was 19, and Hood, 21, when Adam’s House Cat band formed in 1985). The specter of bands like R.E.M., late-period Replacements, and even Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers loom large on Town Burned Down, which today sounds like a long-lost scrappy southern indie staple.
The album, which features newly recorded vocals from Hood, also clearly marks both how much and how little the present-day Truckers, now in their third decade as a band, have progressed, matured and developed from their 80’s roots. “Runaway Train,” Adam’s House Cat’s long-lost single, comes as a minor revelation, a fast-paced mix of indie rock and proto-alt-country that displays Hood and Cooley’s early propensity for marrying deep personal drama (in this case, Hood’s parent’s divorce) with a hit single-worthy riff. “We can be singing the most painful song in the world,” Cooley would say of the Truckers years later, “And we’ll do it with a smile on our face.”
Other highlights include the college-rock riffs of “Shot Rang Out” and “Long Time Ago.” Elsewhere, early, unrefined versions of Truckers staples “Buttholeville” and “Lookout Mountain” show how much their post-grunge power-riffs would eventually help accentuate the high-drama in Hood’s Southern gothic narratives. Taken as a whole, the album serves as proof of just how much, unconsciously or explicitly, Cooley and Hood’s sound would become subtly influenced by the rush of grunge that would hit in the years immediately following Adam’s House Cat, who called it quits in 1991.
Mike Cooley, not yet a songwriter, serves merely as an accompanying guitarist on Town Burned Down. Carrying the album on his own, then, Hood offers a revealing look into his songwriting progression. His sense of melody and pop structure came shockingly full-formed in the late 80’s, but the stories he tells, centered primarily around young male aggression and dejection, lack the literary detail and character-based life-or-death grandeur that he would find just years later on songs like “The Living Bubba” and “18 Wheels of Love.”
Nevertheless, Town Burned Down is a vital document of the early formulations of one of the most the singularly vital turn-of-the-century bands, a shrine to the Truckers’ indignant beginnings that sounds more at home today than it must have nearly 30 years ago.