I discovered the Drive By Truckers while an ex-pat Texan living in New York City. The environment that I has always known, and taken for granted, was replaced by something foreign and I was looking for cultural footing to make me feel “at home” but also to reflect my learned redneck attitude, a new framework look back over my home and its history. That’s when I came across a review for the Drive By Truckers’ 2004 Southern rock masterpiece The Dirty South. Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Jason Isbell proved to the reincarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd cut with the Replacementsthat I needed at the time. Blue collar, backwoods gems like Where the Devil Don’t Stay, Danko/Manuel and Daddy’s Cup revived my faith in the Southern magic of storytelling and the band’s triple guitar attack revived my faith in rock and roll .
The Fine Print (A Collection Of Oddities and Rarities 2003-2008) is an odds & sods largely culled from that fruitful period in the DBTs career. Along with Live from Austin, TX album, The Fine Print fulfills the DBT’s obligation with New West Records and allows them to move on to their own label, Ruth Street Records. The dozen songs on contained here is a bumper crop from a fertile period underscoring the power and focus of that time and that line up. The bitter-sweetness from listening to the album is that as good as the consecutive albums have been, the band has not met this level of intensity or focus since the departure of the youngster Jason Isbell after 2006’s middling A Blessing and a Curse.
The album kicks off with the jaunty George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues featuring John Neff’s sweet pedal-steel. The song deals the Possum’s 1999 car wreck while he was driving drunk and talking to his daughter on a cell phone. It shows love to Jone’s hopes it’s a while before he joins the legions of legendary country stars cluttering the afterlife.
The Trucker’s have never been shy about their influences and the four covers contained here are tackled with heart and reverence. Tom Petty’s Rebels is elevated to a Springsteen-like anthem and Tom T. Hall’s Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken) details the everyday cost of war without mounting a soap box. Warren Zevon’s Play It All Night Long fits right in with the The Dirty South‘s dark swampy groove and the cover of Bob Dylan Like a Rolling Stone is woozy fun and features a Shanna Tucker debut as a front and center vocalist.
The Alternate Versions of Uncle Frank, from 1999’s Pizza Deliverance and Goode’s Field Road from 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark are great but hardly improve on the originals. The gangstabilly mythos of The Dirty South‘s Where the Devil Don’t Stay and The Boys From Alabama has their dark reflection in The Great Car Dealer War, but to lesser narrative affect and Little Pony And The Great Big Horse highlights Mike Cooley’s subtle greatness in songwriting and storytelling. The creepy Christmas blues cut Mrs. Claus’ Kimono should have been the song behind the closing credits of Billy Bob Thornton’s black comedy Bad Santa.
Like most outtakes and rarities collections, The Fine Print is a bit of a mish-mash and overall doesn’t stand up as consistently as the DBT’s best work, but almost all the cuts are hands down better than most of what passes as rock these days. Besides it’s great that these songs (featuring another excellent cover by their long-time cover/poster/t-shirt illustrator Wes Freed) have seen the light of day at all I hope the release points the way to a revitalized and impassioned future for the mighty Drive-By Truckers.