DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: WHAT'S IN A NAME?

By Andy Tennille

Naming an album can be a tricky proposition.

Some – like Van Halen's OU812 and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It for the Money – play on the absurd.

Others – like Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or Sly's There's a Riot Goin' On – speak subtle truths.

And some – like Sebastian Bach's Bring 'Em Bach Alive – are just plain bad.

But there are some album titles – like Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and the Stones' Exile on Main Street – that eloquently capture the essence of a band or get at the heart of an album. A Blessing And A Curse is one of those.


Drive-By Truckers
The past five years have been both a blessing and a curse for the Drive-By Truckers. Upon the release of Southern Rock Opera in 2001, critics lauded front man Patterson Hood and his cohorts for their inventive depiction of life in the Deep South through the bleary-eyed prism of the band's full-bore three-guitar assault. In the wake of the album's success, the north Alabama-cum-Athens, Georgia-based rockers opened a string of dates throughout the South for Lynyrd Skynyrd and struck a deal with Lost Highway Records.

But upon delivery of Decoration Day, the band's follow-up to the critically acclaimed Southern Rock Opera, the suits at Lost Highway lost interest and the band wisely opted out of their contract before getting in over their heads. Friends such as ex-Slobberbone front man Brent Best recommended New West, and the Truckers found a new home. Decoration Day was released in June 2003 with new bassist Earl Hicks and third guitarist and songwriter Jason Isbell in full tow with several months of experience playing in the band. The Dirty South continued the successful run the following year, delivering further accolades and tumultuous change. Hicks left the band during the supporting tour, and Isbell's wife, Shonna Tucker, took over bass-playing duties. Hood got married, and both he and guitarist Mike Cooley became fathers.

A Blessing And A Curse reflects the ups and the downs of the past few years for one of America's great young rock bands – the surrealism of success, the perils of the rock & roll lifestyle, death and love, both lost and found. Sonically, it's the tightest the band's sounded on wax to date - even in their jangly, Rolling Stones-esque romp "Aftermath USA."

"We were getting ready to cut something else, one of the other songs on the record," Isbell says. "We were all just fooling around letting David (Barbe, producer) get levels and everybody started playing that same little riff. Course, David started rolling tape and Patterson had most of the words to it already. It fell together just like that. That's the first time we've ever done a tune that way or come up with that way."

AT: That's pretty cool. Tell me a little bit about your thoughts on the new album in general.


Jason Isbell by Andy Tennille
Jason Isbell: All of the songs are as good as the songs we've put on past records and we had a lot of fun making it, but we kinda used a few different techniques in the studio than we used in the past. I think this record is probably a little more specific to the song. The playing on this record is a little more song-oriented than it is rock 'n roll- oriented or Southern-oriented or anything like that. There are a lot of different kinds of songs on the record and we tried to get the best take for each individual song. I liked doing things that way.

AT: A lot of folks, in reviewing the new album, have made the statement that this album doesn't have the thematic overtones that your past records have had. What's your take?

JI: I don't think it has the same consistency as far as theme, but I didn't think we ever really set out to do that on the last two records either. Obviously with Southern Rock Opera, that was something they all had specifically in mind. With the last two records, I don't think we specifically sat down and decided to make a themed record. I think some different things were on our mind this time around and that's what we wound up writing about. It just so happened that they weren't all as connected as some things we've done in the past.


Drive-By Truckers
AT: One common trait that the past few records share is the very detailed kinda character sketches in some of the band's lyrics – really storytelling songwriting. I'm thinking about the two warring families in "Decoration Day," Sheriff Buford Pusser, Carl Perkins, songs with specific characters. On this album, there's very little of that. It's almost as if the songs are either more first-person oriented or more character generic.

JI: Yeah, I think that's true. I don't think we necessarily did that on purpose, but I think it's true. All of the songs are about somebody or something in particular that may or may not have happened, but it's not necessarily as cut and dry as to the who or where this time around. It's probably not as much a mythological record as the ones in the past, I think.


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