A Blessing and a Curse
Immediately after this record hit the streets last month, the Drive-By Truckers explained in interviews how they chucked their tour-weathered songs and sat down in the studio to force these brand-new ones into existence. The sessions were fertile, inspired, urgent: Sometimes they wrote a song just minutes before laying down the track. Furthermore, the Southern rockers were fleeing from the genre label, casually namedropping Faces, 'Mats, and Big Star as influences. All of which, of course, made the old fans wary that these Jack-swigging Skynyrd conceptualists had gone all soft and poppy. Never fear: With David Barbe twiddling knobs again, A Blessing and a Curse really doesn't sound much different from the last three albums: mid-tempo guitars, gravelly voices, subdermal hooks. The classic Stones rip ("Aftermath U.S.A."), dead-relation ballad ("Little Bonnie"), and remorseful logorrhea ("Goodbye") will all seem very familiar to longtime fans. But what you'll notice between the flying vases and dead flowers in the opening track and the "time less rotten" at disc's end is that this is an optimistic concept album about the walking wounded. Patterson Hood sets the pace with "Feb 14," where a simple riff and rockin' clavioline exercise the tear ducts of us boys who blindly force our exits from crippled relationships. Which makes me wonder how bassist Shonna Tucker reacted to husband/guitarist Jason Isbell's "Daylight," a potential pop classic (complete with soaring vocals) about how irritating a marriage can become. The chorus goes, "While we still have the daylight, I still might look these lessons in the eye," a group therapy line if there ever was one, but still memorable in the way Isbell delivers it, loud and liquid through his newly unclenched jaw. And let's not forget tuneful, hard-drinking motormouth Mike Cooley, the band's fret-shredding magma and icy, hawk-beaked sentinel. He seems either the least damaged or most lost here: "Gravity's Gone" focuses on how he has yet to hit bottom seeing as there's no longer a bottom to hit. And his "Space City" proves (again) that you can't bury love, you gotta dig it up. Hood's astonishing closer, "A World of Hurt," sums it all up by taking the numb stoicism of his octogenarian buddy Paul ("to love is to feel pain") and building a whole sermon around it. "It's great to be alive," Hood drawls at the end, but you can tell he's eyeing that buzzard in the sky.