Come vacation time later that year, Hood remembered the book, went to the stack and packed it for the trip. “I became obsessed with it,” Hood says. “Ended up re-reading it after I finished it, which never happens. We kind of became pen pals after that.”
When Hood played two nights of solo shows at the Star Theater in September 2012, Vlautin hung in the back with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, because a Patterson Hood show is a good place to hang out and drink. When advance copies of Vlautin’s upcoming novel The Free were available, one landed on Hood’s doorstep. This time, it didn’t sit in a stack. It was from the mail, to Hood’s hands, and then to his pen.
The Truckers had already finished recording their 12th album, but Hood knocked out one more song. “Pauline Hawkins” comes from the point of view of one of The Free’s three protagonists. Like the best of Vlautin’s characters (and Hood’s), she’s a decent person in an indecent situation. Her situation maybe isn’t as desperate at others in the book, but it’s as unrelenting. Her quiet grace in the face of that grind is part of what gives the novel its heart.
Hood took the song to the studio, and they cut it and mixed it in a day. It’s the fourth track on Drive-By Truckers' forthcoming album English Oceans, which will be out March 4. Hood is spending part of the winter here in Portland, and he'll play a January residency at the Doug Fir Lounge (January 8, 15, 22), with Vlautin opening the first of those shows.
Meanwhile, Vlautin's book The Free will be out on February 4, and Vlautin’s been in the studio working on a new Richmond Fontaine record. He’s also got a new band, the Delines, fronted by Texas singer Amy Boone. That album should be out late spring, and it’s full of 3 am honky-tonk soul tunes.