Drive-by Truckers' songwriting trio Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell, and Patterson Hood have already established themselves as one of the best rock acts of the past half decade. Picking a favorite from their last three albums 2001's Southern Rock Opera, 2003's Decoration Day, and 2004's Dirty South is a fool's errand, yet A Blessing and a Curse may prove their most enduring.
Not as yoked to the Southern-fried, country-rock sound they built, the stylistic stretching is accompanied by several gut-wrenching paeans that stand among the best in their catalog. Cooley threatens to steal the show with "Gravity's Gone." "Cocaine rich comes quick, and that's why the small dicks have it all," he observes in the song, advising, "Don't ever let them make you feel like saying what you want is unbecoming/If you were supposed to watch your mouth all the time, I doubt your eyes would be above it." Isbell's "Daylight" is the album's biggest reach, an unabashed pop ballad, with a whiff of the '80s in the B-3 organs, but coming on the heels of Hood's downbeat ode to a friendship beyond repair, "Goodbye," the hopeful "Daylight" shines bright. Indeed, there is a current moving through the album, and it's not the rushing rapids of prior releases (aside from their spot-on Stones nod, "Aftermath USA"). It's subtle and insistent, full of bittersweet moments and eventual acceptance, epitomized by Hood's album-closing classic, "A World of Hurt." With a tears-in-your-beer lope, Hood embraces the maxim "to love is to feel pain." It's haunting and irresistible.
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