Friday, December 31, 2010

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter 2010 – Top 10 CDs

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter 2010

“Where does it go? The good Lord only knows….seems like it was just the other day…”

Billie Joe Shaver sure knew what he was singing about, because 2010 got away from us pretty quick, didn’t it? I’m sure I’m stealing this from some forgotten comic’s stand up act, but did you ever notice that kids measure their ages with fractions while adults use decades? (“This is Alicia. She’s eleven.” “No I’m NOT. I’m eleven and a HALF.” “Hey, how old is your friend Ginger?” “Not sure, she’s in her thirties, I think.”)

I think that what I liked most about my favorite music this year is not so much that it was incrementally pulling me forward as much as it was wrapping me in some comforting layers of reassurance, so theres nothing here that’s cutting edge or experimental, just some things that made me feel good. So in that sense, 2010 was less of a magic carpet than a slightly threadbare security blanket.

With that, here are some albums that kept me warm:

Jim Lauderdale - Patchwork River - With help from Al Perkins on dobro, E-Streeter Garry Tallent and James Burton on guitar, Lauderdale and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter have the year’s most compelling record. Lauderdale serves up melodies and hooks while Hunter consistently delivers memorable lyrics like “If you’re looking for justice, what you doing in court?” This record spent more time in my head than any other on this list.

Darrell Scott – A Crooked Road – A very ambitious double album from one of the most talented songwriters and musicians working today, and each listen unveils a new level of complexity. In this case, words fail me, so just go get it and thank me later.

7 Walkers – 7 Walkers - An unfailingly delicious homage to the Crescent City courtesy of Papa Mali, Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Meters bassist George Porter Jr. The record is scattered with gris gris and absinthe and slathered with shifting textures and grit. 7 Walkers is one of the best things you’ll put in your ear all year.

Will Kimbrough –Wings – Will Kimbrough’s folksy Americana sound is spiced with pop and Memphis R&B and seasoned with his own banjo, mandolin, guitars and keys, but lyrically is very much rooted in his relationship with his family and with himself. With Wings, Kimbrough has crafted a record for grownups that doesn’t make you feel old.

Robert Plant – Band of Joy – Distinctly American in feel and tone, Plant is backed by some of the best musicians Nashville has to offer (Buddy Miller, Patti Griffin, Darrell Scott, Byron House), who tackle both traditional tunes as well as those by songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, David Hidalgo and Louis Perez (Los Lobos), and Richard Thompson.

Honey Island Swamp Band -Good To You – This New Orleans band comes on like some funky, blenderized mix of the Gourds, Little Feat, the subdudes, Mofro and Paul Thorn. Be good to yourself and get a copy of this one.

Packway Handle Band -What Are We Gonna Do Now? - You know what I say? The Athens-based Packway Handle Band can pretty much do whatever they want. This is easily their most accomplished and well-rounded, they seem poised to step things up a notch and stand toe-to-toe with the best folk/bluegrass bands around.

Ray Wylie Hubbard -A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) –Ray Wylie testifies that “Muddy Waters is as deep as William Blake” and churns out a mix of rural blues and poetic chaos as the backdrop for his fatalistic tales of death, dust and destruction.

Drive-By Truckers -The Big To-DoThroughout these thirteen tracks of lap dances, alcoholism, tragedy, double crosses, solitude, duress, restraining orders, falls from grace and falls from high wires, the Truckers continue to produce the smartest, sharpest high body-count rock n’ roll to be found.

(tie)Peter Cooper -The Lloyd Green Album / Eric Brace & Peter Cooper - Master Sessions – Different sides of the same coin, these two records demonstrate Nashville’s future with Brace and Cooper’s songwriting skills while honoring the past with the striking presence of steel guitar legend Lloyd Green and covers by Tom T Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Don Schlitz and John Hiatt.

Nudged out of a crowded field: Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers, Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig, Peter Karp and Sue Foley - He Said She Said, Have Gun Will Travel - Postcards From The Friendly City.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine January 2011

Monday, November 29, 2010

Eric Brace & Peter Cooper

Master Sessions

Peter Cooper

The Lloyd Green Album

Red Beet Records

You only have to go four songs and one verse into Peter Cooper’s The Lloyd Green Album to find the lines that comprise what might be the purest distillation of every perfect country song: “There’s gonna be some wreckage when your dreams and your habits collide” from “Gospel Song.” Cooper, a Nashville singer-songwriter and journalist, follows up his debut, 2008s Mission Door with a record of emotionally deft songs, life lessons and character sketches of sketchy characters, all punctuated with the elegant pedal steel work of the legendary Pedal Steel Hall of Famer, Lloyd Green.

The purest moments come when its just Cooper’s voice rising over his acoustic guitar with Green’s swirling, mewing, swooping leads darting in and out, punctuating the sound (check out “That Poor Guy” or “Mama, Bake a Pie” for examples), but the tunes aren’t all sparse arrangements. Guitarist Richard Bennett and keyboardist Jen Gunderman add much, as do guest vocalists Rodney Crowell (who sings on “Tulsa Queen,” a track he and Emmylou Harris wrote) and Kim Carnes. Most of the tracks are Cooper’s own, although he shares a credit with Todd Snider on “The Last Laugh” (also heard on Todd’s The Excitement Plan) and with Baker Maultsby on the clever “What Dub Does.” Covers are impeccably chosen – Kris Kristofferson, John Hiatt and Tom T. Hall are pretty good sources. In fact, Cooper and Green’s reading of Hall’s “Mama, Bake a Pie” might be the best song of the bunch; the pedal steel work is as haunting and as aching as the poignant lyrics require. Green’s work is integral to this record; taking the songs to places they would never find themselves without his amazing, graceful talent to guide them there. We are lucky to be along for that ride.

But that’s just the opening act of a twin-bill punch. Along with Cooper’s record, Red Beet Records simultaneously released Master Sessions, wherein Eric Brace & Peter Cooper grab Green and dobro ace Mike Auldridge (Seldom Scene) along with a few other friends, hole up in a Nashville studio and concoct a incredibly charming record of graceful Americana. On the opening song, Herb Petersen’s “Wait A Minute,” Eric’s earthy, humid vocals blend with Cooper’s plaintive ones, backed with harmony from Kenny Chesney to roll above the Green and Auldridge’s astounding instrumental work, and is one of the best individual tracks I’ve heard this year. The rest of the record is wonderfully crafted folk/country with songs by Brace and Cooper as well as Don Schlitz (who wrote “The Gambler” among others), Tom T. Hall and John Hartford.

By themselves, either of these records are essential listens to the state of modern Americana music; together, they celebrate the past and illuminate the future.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

November 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Keller & The Keels
Sci Fidelity Records

Keller Williams has been stretching out lately – on 2008’s Live, with Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident) on bass, Gibb Droll on guitar and Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit) on drums, the guitarist shed his one man jamband persona for a slot in a more traditional lineup, with some pretty positive results. Now, Keller has hooked up with flatpicker extraordinaire Larry Keel and wife Jenny on bass to release Thief, an album of acoustic covers that harkens back to their previous 2006 collaboration, Grass.

With tracks by Amy Winehouse, the Grateful Dead, the Butthole Surfers and the Raconteurs, the selection can only be described as eclectic. For me, the songs that resonate are the ones most closely aligned with the acoustic framework of the record – the Kris Kristofferson tunes that bookend the CD (Don’t Cuss the Fiddle and The Year 2003 minus 25), Danny Barnes’ Get It While You Can, Yonder Mountain String Band’s Wind’s on Fire and especially Patterson Hood’s Uncle Disney, which benefits tremendously from the interpretation, adding harmonies and tasty acoustic guitar licks to take this tune to another level.

Does it all work? In a word, no. Rehab, Winehouse’s infamous hit, is good for little more than a laugh and perilously approaches the parody territory occupied by bluegrass jokesters Hayseed Dixie. Marcy Playground’s Sex and Candy fares only slightly better, although Cracker’s Teen Angst (“The world needs another folksinger like I need a hole in my head.”) translates nicely. Keller & The Keels generate plenty of sparks over the course of the thirteen tracks here, the outstanding playing of Keller and Larry is underpinned expertly by Jenny Keel, who plucks and slaps the acoustic bass with aplomb.

While Thief does occasionally feel like a self-indulgent attempt to let us know how wide-ranging Keller Williams’ taste is, for the most part, it succeeds as a record that blends multiple genres together with a wink and a nod and is something that doesn’t resemble thievery so much as some good-natured borrowing for a good reason.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
June 2010

AthFest 2010 Compilation

AthFest 2010
Various Artists
Ghostmeat Records

For music fans who like to explore new sounds, Athens, Georgia is the place to be. And if you want to dig into a bunch of new music in one weekend, then AthFest is what you’re looking for. AthFest compilations have always been something special for me… after listening to a number of them; I’ve been excited, enthralled, confused and bemused, but never bored. On this, the 13th AthFest compilation, the trend of offering something new continues: of the sixteen tracks, nine of them are previously unreleased.

This latest volume encompasses everything there is to like about walking through downtown Athens during AthFest, although it seems a bit more mainstream than previous releases. Then again, does mainstream even mean anything when it comes to Athens music? In the past we’ve had rap and blues and gospel and quirky experimental music, but this year the focus is rock and pop, with some country and Americana. Many of these bands have been around awhile, so the new and shiny factor is diminished. The quality, however, is not.

This is a fine group of songs that work and flow together in ways that many compilations can’t manage, from The Whigs garage-band raveup I Don’t Even Care About The One I Love to the new-wave pop of The Orkids or the speedy crunch of Pride Parade’s If You See Her, Say Hello.

The Packway Handle Band’s Outskirts, from their excellent What Are We Gonna Do Now? release, is a great addition, as is Five Eight’s The Ballad of Frankie Jr. and Timi Conley’s New Boyfriend. Also featured are Ken Will Morton, whose Tell It To The Wind quickly became one of my favorites, Venice Is Sinking, William Tonks, and The Incredible Sandwich.

Proceeds from the sale of this compilation benefit AthFest educational programs like AthFest InSchool, AthFest AfterSchool and Keys for Kids.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
June 2010

Big Sam's Funky Nation

Big Sam’s Funky Nation
King of the Party
Hypersoul Records

The constituents of Big Sam’s Funky Nation know what they want and they know where to get it: direct from Big Sam Williams, former trombonist for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the leader of his own band since 2003’s Birth of a Nation. On this, their fourth release, they do what they do best; play a blend of New Orleans brass band, funk and R&B with some rock-n-roll teeth.

The party kicks off with Big Sam asserting himself as get-down royalty over a solid mix of massive drums, wailing guitars and blasting horns on the title track, and doesn’t really let up until the last track fades from the speakers. In between, you’re treated to flashes of James Brown funk, Parliament space-trips and vocal effects, second-line rhythms, and even a tasty cover Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” Just as other New Orleans bands like the Dirty Dozen and Bonerama have worked to expand their musical boundaries outside the city’s confines, Big Sam’s Funky Nation have embraced the party-all-the-time dance machine ethos and work it until the sweat drips.

In short, Big Sam IS the King of the Party, and you’re invited.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
May 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Preview of the Columbus Fall Line Trace

Warm Springs Rd. Connector to Columbus State University

Friday, I turned a perfectly executed double play: I got off work early, loaded my bike into my truck and got to ride a bit on the still under construction Columbus Fall Line Trail rails-to-trails project.

I parked my truck at Cooper Creek Park and traversed the short distance up to where the trail crosses Warm Springs Rd. Connector, cutting through the vacant lot to avoid the traffic at the light. If plans don’t include a connecting bike path to the park, someone’s not only missing a great opportunity but also creating a safety issue.

For now, orange barrels and a sign hawking the federal stimulus package’s contribution mark the northernmost terminus of the current project. The path itself is asphalt, wide and flat, winding behind Milgen Rd. businesses before paralleling Manchester Expressway, then passing near a convenience store which, if it’s smart, should do well by virtue of its location.
On my trip, upon reaching the crossing at Reese Road, two big-ass holes were dead center of the trail on both sides of the street, a reminder that this thing is still under construction and requires some common sense when riding.

At this point, the path splits from the original tracks to come closer to the rest area that’s under construction. There will be restrooms and some type of retailing, and lots of parking. To me, it’s not that far to Cooper Creek Park, so why not utilize and upgrade an existing resource rather than building this?

The most scenic portion is up next, a canopy of mixed hardwoods and pines that bend over a short, shady stretch before rejoining the clanging, noisy world at University Ave. and Manchester Expressway.

Here, unfortunately, you must become a pedestrian and navigate the intersection’s islands and signals to rejoin the path in front of Burger King before this last section, which ends where Warm Springs Rd. meets Columbus State College. At this point, I doubled back to Cooper Creek Park.
The path itself is well graded, but shows signs of the heavy equipment needed to do the job – gashes and scrapes and wide tire tracks are embedded in the pavement. A few edges already show cracks. How well will this section hold up over time?

I am looking forward to the completion of the project, especially the section that will connect Flat Rock Park to Cooper Creek.

In 1999, we voted a tax on ourselves for this thing, trolley or not. And now, finally we are seeing it unfold thanks to a myriad of financing, lots of hard work and a ton of orange barrels.

Ride on, bikes.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Boo Ray
Bad News Travels Fast

Independent Release

Boo Ray is a singer. And a songwriter. A singer-songwriter, for those of you who like things hyphenated. The songs he writes are loosely described as Americana. And the problem with being a singer-songwriter who writes in the Americana genre is that you can’t swing a singer-songwriter without hitting a banjo player and knocking him into a fiddle player. Yeah, it’s a combination shot, but it’s easier than it sounds.

Fortunately, Boo Ray is good songwriter. And a sneaky one. You’ll find yourself singing the hooks to songs like “Allez Allez” or “Six Weeks in a Motel” (where “we’ll do things we don’t tell”) and wondering how they insinuated themselves into your brain. The nine tracks here were recorded in Atlanta and in LA with a varied group of musicians including David Blackmon on fiddle and William Tonks on dobro (for the Atlanta half) and Steve Feronne (Tom Petty & The HeartBreakers) and Zander Schloss (Circle Jerks), who also co-produced the LA tracks. The album is bookended by the title track (co-written with Colin Linden), which wouldn’t be out of place on a Joe Ely record, and finishes with a stark cover of Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet.”

Bad News Travels Fast is a debut record that doesn’t sound like one and Boo Ray is a bit of good news that travels just as fast.

Curtis Lynch
April 2010

The Contribution - Which Way World

The Contribution
Which Way World
SCI Fidelity Records

The Contribution is a jamband supergroup. With New Monsoon’s Jeff Miller (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Phil Ferlino (keyboards), Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone (violin, vocals), and The String Cheese Incident’s Keith Moseley (bass) and Jason Hann (The String Cheese Incident) signed up, there’s no other way to describe it.

A jamband supergroup? Let me begin to list the ways that can go wrong. The jamband world is a family thing that stretches into the audience and in between bands, so it’s no surprise when it all starts to meld into one big gooey, swirling glob. And with supergroups, a penciled-in lineup of stars from various bands, well, too often those things can be a combination of what seems like essentially solo tracks sewed together into a cockeyed quilt. Each piece is fine on its own, but there’s nothing to tie them together other than the fragile string between them.

For the most part, The Contribution’s Which Way World manages to avoid both of those pitfalls over ten tracks of solidly constructed tunes that range from funky blues and energetic rock to country/bluegrass and they even throw in some classic pop influences. Miller’s guitar and Carbone’s fiddle dominate the color of the songs, but Ferlino’s keyboards are right there as well. Lyrically, the record is concerned with the world around us, especially the rockin’ blues of “Fear of Nothing” and the title track. No mere jamband recreation, Which Way World takes the best from each of its individual contributors and puts them to work as a team. This is one of those records you’ll listen to again and again and like it better each time.

Curtis Lynch
April 2010

Delta Moon - Hell Bound Train

Delta Moon
Hell Bound Train

Red Parlor Records

I’ve been following Delta Moon since their first record in 2002 and before that, guitarist Tom Gray’s previous band The Brains, a group that fell under a new-wave umbrella that was opened so wide and so often in the 80s that even Tom Petty was underneath its shadow. Delta Moon, however, is a roots-blues band that has little to do with Tom Petty and even less to do with new-wave. After recording with a couple of female vocalists, the band settled in with Gray as lead vocalist and the current lineup, which has been together since 2007, has evolved into a searing roadhouse blues unit, capable of simmering as well as boiling.

Hell Bound Train, their seventh, is a white-knuckled ride through a Southern gothic landscape where the branches of family trees groan and strain under the weight of loss and tragedy, too often self-inflicted. Gray’s lap steel and Mark Johnson’s electric slide toss off tandem leads over drummer Darren Stanley and bassist Franher Joseph’s red-clay rhythms across the eleven tracks here (although the closer, “Plantation Song,” is Gray solo on dobro) and create their best record yet. And I emphasize “yet.” Because Delta Moon just keeps getting better.

When Hell Bound Train stops near you, jump on board.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
April 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Drive-By Truckers - Live from Austin TX

Drive-By Truckers
Live From Austin TX (DVD/CD)
New West Records

If you’re partial to analogies, let’s say the Drive-By Truckers’ 2009 compilation CD The Fine Print (A Collection Of Oddities And Rarities 2003-2008) was a super-8 home movie and the band members are your kids. And over the course of that record, you can watch them grow. That makes this dual DVD/CD live release a snapshot in 4/4 time, a musical Polaroid of a band touring behind an extremely strong record (Brighter Than Creations Dark) with a ton of great new songs. Shaking off the lineup changes that saw guitarist and songwriter Jason Isbell leave, keyboardist Spooner Oldham step in on The Dirt Underneath tour, the addition of Jay Gonzales on keys and a greater role for sideman John Neff, the band shows strength and resolve. The core remains the same, with Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley providing the vocals, guitars and stories, while Brad Morgan on drums and Shonna Tucker on bass have coalesced into a formidable rhythm section.

Appearing on Austin City Limits as a first timer, evidently the band wanted to showcase their songwriting talent as much as their reputation as a raucous rock band that slings sweat with the best of them, and as such we are treated to a fined honed set of music that is as solid as Morgan’s backbeat and as soaring as one of Neff’s pedal steel solos.

The same thirteen songs are on both DVD and CD, although the some of the stories and between-song banter are cut from the audio disc. The most compelling story is an updated tale of Hood’s momma Jan and her trucker husband, Chester, “Eighteen Wheels of Love,” first heard on the band’s 2002 live release, Alabama Ass Whuppin’. Patterson knows how to tell a story and this one is worth the price of the disc all by it’s own self. Luckily, the rest of the record is just as good. The Truckers like their alt-country and rock with a splash of soul and use this base to spin their tales of the down and out, dispossessed and dispirited with both passion and compassion. Mike Cooley’s countrified tunes “Perfect Timing,” “A Ghost To Most” and the acoustic, heartbreaking “Space City” sit well alongside his rockers “Marry Me,” the Stones-ish “3 Dimes Down” and “Zip City,” while Hood’s tales of life in the ragged Southern trenches “Puttin’ People On The Moon,” “Heathens” and “The Righteous Path” are balanced by celebratory “The Living Bubba” and “Let There Be Rock.” Shonna steps up to the mic with her lush “I’m Sorry Huston.”

The audio and video quality on both discs is stellar, befitting the performances. If you’re a fan of the Drive-By Truckers, this is what you’ll want to pull out when someone asks you about the band. If you’re not a fan, you will be after this one.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine March 2010

Will Kimbrough - Wings

Will Kimbrough


Daphne Records

There are lots of words you can use to describe Will Kimbrough: singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, award winner, and on and on. But if you asked Will, I’d bet that husband and father would beat those out hands down. On Wings, his fifth solo record, his relationship with his family and with himself form the core for many of the ten songs, none more so than the opening track, “Three Angels,” a love song to his wife and two daughters (“Everybody has an angel, I’ve got three.”).

DADDY bandmate Tommy Womack’s 2007 CD There…I Said It! was also a journal about what it means to be a grownup, although their visions differ. (Of course, that disparity between the two is what makes their band so special.) Where Tommy fought and scratched his way to adulthood, Will seems to embrace it warmly. Wings is an album of love and contentment, with an uplifting warmth that permeates each song.

But it wasn’t that long ago that Will was also railing at the world around him. On 2006’s Americanitis, Kimbrough was a rock, a smooth one for sure, but one that skipped across the water with force, kicking up spray as it hurled itself against a raging torrent. Now, on Wings, he is that same rock, only this time, it is sitting in the middle of the stream, enjoying the feel of the rushing water as it flows on by. Same rock. Different speed.

Kimbrough’s folksy Americana sound is spiced with pop and Memphis R&B, seasoned with his own banjo, mandolin, guitars and keys and gets plenty of help from Paul Griffith (DADDY) on drums, Tim Marks (Taylor Swift) on bass and Pat Buchanan on guitar. The title track, co-written with Jimmy Buffett, is one of my favorite songs so far in 2010. (The song also appears on Jimmy’s newest, Buffet Hotel, which features Kimbrough’s songs and guitars.) With Wings, Will Kimbrough has crafted a record for grownups that doesn’t make you feel old.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine March 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

Timi Conley - Nerd Sexy

Timi Conley
Nerd Sexy

Row Your Boat Records

Timi Conley bends it like Beck in a genre-blending exercise in which the longtime Athens musician comes across like the Prince of Clarke County, writing, recording, mastering and playing nearly every instrument on every track. Throughout the fifteen tracks on Nerd Sexy, Conley picks his way through acoustic blues, electro pop, hip-hop beats and new wave bleeps like he’s strolling down a buffet line.

Nerd Sexy, Timi’s first solo record, is a fun listen, messy and entertaining, strewn all over a musical map that encompasses everything from The Flaming Lips to Jim White.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
February 2010

Packway Handle Band - What Are We Gonna Do Now?

Packway Handle Band
What Are We Gonna Do Now?

Self Released

You know what I say? The Packway Handle Band can pretty much do whatever they want. The Athens-based band is already lauded for their tightly spun harmonies, material that includes a growing batch of their own extremely well-written songs, quirky cover choices and a string of impressive live performances. And with What Are We Gonna Do Now? they seem poised to step things up a notch and stand toe-to-toe with the best folk/bluegrass bands around. This is their fourth full length studio release (there was also a 2007 live EP) and their consistency and quality has to be reckoned with. This one, self-produced and recorded at fiddler Andrew Heaton’s house, is a departure from their stage show, where the band crowds around twin condenser microphones, stepping up to add a lick or sing a line, because on this record, each member recorded their parts separately. A minor point perhaps, but to my ears, there’s a different sense of space and warmth, a depth that comes from extra brushstrokes courtesy of sax and flute on a couple of tunes.

Heaton’s wry songs, “What Is A Packway Handle?,” which does absolutely nothing to answer that question (which is of course the point), and “I’m Glad You’ve Got My Priorities So Straight” provide the winking, smiling counterpoint to Michael Paynter’s five contributions. Paynter’s “Off My Knees” has surging bluesy riffs that explode into a chorus of layered harmonies, while “Outskirts” sports emotionally expressive lyrics that for some reason remind me of Dylan, circa Blood on the Tracks. Guitarist Josh Erwin chips in with three tracks including the instrumental “Horse vs. Technology.” This release is easily their most accomplished and well-rounded and I’d put it up against anyone else in that vague Americana/folk/bluegrass category that people want to talk about.

What Are We Gonna Do Now? I don’t know; just let me know when you do it.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
February 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Drive-By Truckers - The Fine Print (A Collection of Oddities And Rarities 2003-2008)

Drive-By Truckers

The Fine Print (A Collection of Oddities And Rarities 2003-2008)

New West Records

Rock ‘n roll bands who embark on a recording career have a certain path they tend to follow: independent releases, major record deals, first releases, maybe a sophomore slump, a live record, rejection by their early fans who think they’ve sold out, lineup shuffles, (and if you’re lucky) a greatest hits CD, solo records, DVDs, and finally, after logging enough hours in the studio, they dump out an odds-n-sods compilation, which may or may not be worth a shit.

Friends, this one is worth at least one shit, maybe two.

Typically, these things are for the hard-core fans who want everything the band has ever done and while I’m not going to tell you its essential listening, I will say that it’s a representative sample of the band during this time, which spans the albums Decoration Day, The Dirty South, and A Blessing and a Curse. This is a period that follows their masterpiece Southern Rock Opera and includes the departure of guitarist, vocalist and writer Jason Isbell, who left the band after playing on the three DBT albums mentioned above. Isbell has two of the strongest tracks here: “TVA” and “When the Well Runs Dry. “ Patterson’s excellent and informative liner notes even say that the latter should have been on 2008’s A Blessing and a Curse and I agree. It would certainly have made for a stronger record, which in retrospect was not a high-water mark for the band. The other ten songs here consist of covers, unreleased and alternative versions.

The covers include Tom Petty’s “Rebels,” recorded for a King of the Hill episode, a truly inspired take on Tom T. Hall’s “Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill A Chicken),” Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” (the chorus “Sweet Home Alabama/play that dead band’s song” mocks the Lynyrd Skynyrd /DBT comparisons), and the finale, “Like A Rolling Stone,” where each of the vocalists take turns on the verses (and features bassist Shonna Tucker’s first lead vocals with the band). The alternate take of “Goode’s Field Road” doesn’t convey the dark fatalism of the version that ended up on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark although Mike Cooley’s “Uncle Frank” (originally on Pizza Deliverance) makes for an interesting counterpoint to Isbell’s “TVA.” Hood’s liner notes mention that they had intended to release these as a two-sided single, but those plans never came to fruition.

The unreleased originals include a full band version of Hood’s “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues,” “The Great Car Dealer War,” which is yet another tragically poetic southern tale that was left off of The Dirty South, and Mike Cooley’s acoustic “Little Pony and the Great Big Horse.” Of all the songs here, only “Mrs. Claus’ Kimono” leaves me lukewarm, and that’s a pretty good batting average. The Fine Print just proves that the stuff the Drive-By Truckers leave behind in the studio is better than the dreck that passes for rock-n-roll on the radio today.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine January 2010