Review Summary: A solid yet controversial album from one of Southern Rock's most distinctive torchbearers. Also the last to feature Jason Isbell.
The Drive-By Truckers are basically the hipster offspring of Skynrd and Steve Earle, but that wouldnt be a fair summarization. The distinct beauty of the music that this band creates is an entity of its own, even if retaining a religious dedication to thier influences. Unlike former country punk stylists such as Uncle Tupelo and Green On Red, the Drive-By Truckers are more akin to grow from their roots rather then dig at them. Even when the lyrics are satirical or ironic in nature, they are delivered with the squinty-eyed world-weary seriousness like a musical Clint Eastwood. And that is what sets the Truckers apart from their genre peers: they never fail to butter up the corn, and throw some pepper on that bitch for good measure.
Here on A Blessing And A Curse, the Truckers go for a more basic, catchy southern-rock style then previous rock-tinged efforts such as "The Dirty South" and "Southern Rock Opera". While formerly mentioned albums focused on intricate concepts and storytelling, this LP marks a turning point for the band. The long, drawn out tales of the Southern underbelly have been cut down into similer if more simplistic country-fried rock n roll. While not a bad thing, the result of the stripped down lyrics leaves one with the feeling that the band is holding back or just being lazy. Songs like Feb 14th, Aftermath USA, and Easy On Yourself would be perfect if not for the fact that The Drive-By Truckers are much like Stephen King in their writing style. Meaning that if you take away their penchant for heavy detail, the storys just dont seem to function correctly. But the music almost makes up for it. A perfectly communicated three-guitar attack, an alternately brawny and subtle rythem section, and a more pronounced diction of memorable hooks then the band was previously known for. Never before has the band been at such a refined level of sonic control, showing off the ability to craft a short n sweet package of a song just as well as a punked up Skynard jam. Sometimes they do get a little lazy with the riffage, but when that happens there is usually a sweet guitar solo or a burst of witty wordplay to pick it up.
Altogether this is a solid album from a great band, but I cant help feeling that they couldve done a lot more with it then what they did. Being the last album they did with Jason Isball, the band soon started to lose some of it's magic after this. Some say this is where they did lose it, but if anything this is where they realized they could loosen up their collective scowls and just rock the *** out.