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.
Playgrounds Magazine January 2010