Filed by M. Trevor Higgins
The one-page press release that accompanies the new Drive By Truckers album, A Blessing and a Curse, is full of grandiose talk about this Southern five-pieces position as greatest band in the world. Id love to take such comeuppance to task, but the publicity machine may be right.
Much of what makes the first six albums from Drive by Truckers great also limits their appeal. Anyone can appreciate the three-headed guitar and lyric attack of Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell. Their individual skill seems almost too much for one band to contain.
If you grew up in the South, as I did, and heard the tall tales, shot the breeze on the porches and went to the family reunions the songs struck a special chord. The gothic tales and powerful guitars are second nature to us natives. Yet despite critical praise for their work, exploring Southern values, Lynyrd Skynyrd and backwoods outlaws, the band remained an opening act stuck with the Southern Rock label, a term Hood said was inappropriate.
A Blessing and a Curse doesnt deviate far from the script. The creepy artwork of longtime collaborator Wes Freed is on the cover, there are songs about death, drinking, drug abuse, escape and bad relationships. Hood, Cooley and Isbell still split time at the mic and song book, in that order they take turns on the albums first three tracks.
But something else is going on here. This album finds the group moving away from the thematic concept albums of late to focus on simply great, sometimes personal songs, that are too good to be labeled simply Southern Rock. Classic rock might be more accurate, because this is a great album in the classical sense. The album is full of driving power pop, cut-throat heartache and ghostly longing. More importantly, you dont have to hear the band in a dive in Opelika to fall in love.
The opening track, Feb 14, sinks its claws in deep. Between a chorus asking be my valentine, Hood sings: Youre blossoming all over while I wither on the line/I just called to tell you that I hope youre doing fine. Cooley, on his two songs Gravitys Gone and Space City, continues to write some of the most unique phrasings in music. Isbell pushes his vocals to the limit, stretching almost too thin on Daylight,
Blessing feels and sounds like an album from a band asserting themselves as the greatest rock and roll band on the planet. They may not have the mass appeal yet, but Ill take the Truckers over Coldplay. My Morning Jackets latest, Z, was more experimental, but Blessing is more accessible. This doesnt give them the outright crown, but theyve got a legitimate claim to greatest band on the planet.
E-mail M. Trevor Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org