A Blessing and a Curse
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2006, Volume 13, #4
Written by John Metzger
In crafting its sixth studio effort A Blessing and a Curse, Drive-By Truckers initially set aside its ambitious tendency to turn everything it touches into a conceptual work. Yet, in spite of its lack of a defined, lyrical narrative, the outingís cohesion succeeds in holding its own against the ensembleís increasingly formidable canon. Unlike Southern Rock Opera and The Dirty South, the collection doesnít attempt to demythologize the cultural icons that tower over those residing below the Mason-Dixon Line. Instead, it ponders issues that are of a far more personal nature. Granted, the band has marched down this road before, most recently on Decoration Day's bleak, brooding exploration of lifeís choices and their frequently unfortunate byproducts. Although A Blessing and a Curse isnít nearly as suffocating and oppressive, it still wades into some truly depressing waters.
On Little Bonnie, for example, the impact that a fatherís sorrow over the death of his 4-year-old daughter has upon his family is presented from the vantage point of his later-born son; while Aftermath USA details the sordid scene that follows a self-destructive, drug-and-sex-fueled bender. Nevertheless, the character sketches created by principal songwriters Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Jason Isbell are filled with regret as well as a desperate desire to rise above, rather than to escape, the hopelessness that surrounds their inhabitants.
In that regard, the albumís title A Blessing and a Curse alludes to the duality of life itself, and therefore, it isnít surprising that the darkness that settles upon the affair also is pierced by a sense of optimism that things can change. This is a point that is driven home primarily during the final track A World of Hurt. Through the use of spoken word narration, Hood makes the case that love and pain are intertwined with existence and that perseverance in the face of hardship is the only way to survive. "Itís great to be alive," he states steadfastly before singing the songís title as a defiant mantra, while a surge of stabbing guitars and weeping pedal steel conveys the emotional turbulence that threatens to wear him down.
While thereís little doubt that A Blessing and a Curse covers the same ground upon which Drive-By Truckers has tread since its debut, it also demonstrates the ensembleís rapidly maturing talent. In finding fresh perspectives from which to relay its insightfully poetic ruminations, the group essentially places its entire body of work within a new light. Better still, A Blessing and a Curse is the first endeavor that Drive-By Truckers has concocted that truly transcends the collectiveís regional heritage, and in effect, this signals that rather than desiring simply to be a great Southern band, it now is striving to be something far greater. Ĺ
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box