It’s hard to write a protest song that doesn’t come off as reductive, all the more so in an era when there’s so much to protest. Drive-By Truckers strike the right balance on the not-so-subtly-titled track “Babies in Cages,” off their new album, The Unraveling.
With a decidedly more subdued version of the band’s trademark country swing, the tempo comes closer to a weary simmer that evokes the frustration of a populace that feels impotent when it comes to our leaders’ missteps. Building from a spare acoustic guitar to a skronky electric, the nearly six-minute song slowly unfolds the horrors at the border with unadorned images of tinfoil blankets, shoeless children, and kids changing each other’s diapers. Lead singer Patterson Hood sounds genuinely exhausted as he sings, “I’m sorry to my children/Sorry what they see/Sorry for the world that they’ll inherit from me.” From there, the song stretches out into a prolonged instrumental that’s trippy, heavy, sprawling — and reminiscent, somehow, of the anti-war energy of the 1967 musical Hair.
This oft-political band knows that right now, we don’t necessarily need uplifting anthems about the resilience of our people. Those feelings don’t quite come naturally in the face of today’s news. But they won’t look away from the tragedy at our borders, or quiet their anger and despair.