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

The Fine Print (A Collection Of Oddities And Rarities 2003-2008) (2009)

B+

1. George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues 2. Rebels 3. Uncle Frank (Alternate Version) 4. TVA 5. Goode’s Field Road (Alternate Version) 6. The Great Car Dealer War 7. Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill A Chicken) 8. When The Well Runs Dry 9. Mrs. Claus’ Kimono 10. Play It All Night Long 11. Little Pony And The Great Big Horse 12. Like A Rolling Stone

 

Odds and sods from the Isbell era, which you probably could’ve ascertained easily enough from the title, provided you can, you know, read. So then what the heck am I here for, anyway? Do I serve any purpose whatsoever?

*Leaves*

*Has existential crisis*

*Comes down off ledge*

*Returns*

So as I was preparing to jump off the roof of the GM building, unable to grapple with the utter meaninglessness of my own existence, I had an epiphany: I’m the only person I know with a cool red birth mark that looks like South America. Also I’ve probably listened to this album a lot more times than you have, so I can probably provide some moderately useful analysis of it. Life goes on another day, I suppose.

DBT being DBT, they treated The Fine Print not as a thoughtless compilation, but as a regular, conscientiously sequenced album that just so happens to be comprised of songs that for various reasons didn’t quite make the cut for their previous few albums. It’s a refreshing approach compared to the usual way of doing these things, which is to jump between different eras of a band’s career all willy nilly, which can be kind of tough to digest all at once if it’s a band that’s gone through a lot of changes over the years. Like on the Who album I alluded to at the beginning of this review, for instance – the idea of “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” and “Long Live Rock” being on the same album is kind of implausible, you know? By contrast, all the songs on The Fine Print sound like they could have come from the same sessions – and that’s because all but two of them actually were recorded during or around the Dirty South sessions. Ain’t that convenient! And man, was this band cooking during that period or what? Making an A+-level album and then having enough left over for a whole ‘nother record that’s pretty darn good in its own right? Primed for world domination, these boys were. Then they made A Blessing And A Curse. Oh well.

Actually, it is kind of difficult to imagine DBT putting out a regular LP with four covers on it, like The Fine Print has, cause they’re such a songwriting first kinda band. But their cover choices fit so well into the band’s aesthetic that they don’t even sound like covers. I don’t know if it says more about DBT’s adeptness at making songs their own or about how indebted they are to their influences in the first place that this is the case, but either way, their ability to nail songs by the likes of Tom Petty (“Rebels”) and Tom T. Hall (“Mama Bake A Pie”) is hardly a surprise (no Skynyrd, in case you were wondering, although they did do a great version of “Every Mother’s Son” with Cooley singing that they decided not to put on this album for some reason). The best of the bunch is Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” (actually, it’s more of a Zevon medley, also containing a snippet of “Ain’t That Pretty At All”), which is so directly within the Truckers’ wheelhouse, it may as well be a straight-as-an-arrow, right-down-the-middle 91 MPH Phil Hughes fastball (in this metaphor, DBT are Chris Davis, or Jose Bautista, or shit, really any hitter in the American League. Phil Hughes sucks. I’m so glad he’s been exiled to Minnesota). The snarling, bottom-heavy guitar riffs, the lyrics about dying and “sweat, piss, jizz, blood,” the “SWEEEEET HOOOME ALABAAAMA” chorus… why, it sounds just like a Dirty South-era song! By comparison, “Like A Rolling Stone” is just kind of a fun novelty, which a different singer taking each of the four verses, thereby allowing Shonna to make her lead vocal debut. Cooley’s verse is the best, naturally.

So like I said, just about everything here comes from the Dirty South era (the exception being Jason’s Blessing And A Curse leftover “When The Well Runs Dry,” which is brooding and twangy and actually sounds like DBT rather than, you know, Blue Oyster Cult. Who the hell sequenced that album anyway?). And man, they had some killer stuff just lying around from those sessions. Guess they had to cut something from an album that was already 70 minutes long, huh? Patterson’s hilarious “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues,” the greatest “don’t text and drive” PSA ever conceived, and Cooley’s touching fable for his newborn kid, “Little Pony And The Great Big Horse” just wouldn’t have fit thematically with the rest of those songs, but removed from that context, they’re plenty enjoyable.

The highlights of this disc were recorded during the Dirty South sessions, but weren’t actually intended to be on the album. Instead, they planned to release an old fashioned 7” single about the Tennessee Valley Authority and featuring a rerecorded version of Cooley’s “Uncle Frank” and Jason’s “TVA.” And you know what, had that single ever materialized, it might have actually wound up being the ultimate DBT primer for prospective fans. That’s because these two songs are the perfect example of “the duality of the DBT thing,” so to speak. “Uncle Frank” is loud and rocking (and with the three-guitar lineup behind it, this full-bore take is way better than the old Pizza Deliverance version); “TVA” is slower and intimate. “Uncle Frank” tells a story using fictional characters; “TVA” uses real ones (Jason and his family, to be exact, starting with he and his dad and going back to his great grandparents, who were starving during the Great Depression and “wrote a letter to FDR,” resulting in them participating in a government work program that saved thousands of lives in the 30s). “Uncle Frank” is about corruption and those left behind; “TVA” is about getting your prayers answered. And yet, both songs have the same basic subject, and both are able to distill vitally important lessons about American history and society into a few verses about regular folks living their lives. That’s how you really get your message through to anyone who’s willing to listen, I think. And nobody does it better than DBT.



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