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Drive-By Truckers 

A Blessing and a Curse (New West)

Drive-By Truckers' songwriting trio -- Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell, and Patterson Hood -- have already established themselves as one of the best rock acts of the past half-decade. Picking a favorite from their last three albums -- 2001's Southern Rock Opera, 2003's Decoration Day, and 2004's Dirty South -- is a fool's errand, yet A Blessing and a Curse may prove their most enduring.

No longer so tightly yoked to the southern-fried, country-rock sound they built, the Truckers stretch themselves stylistically in several gut-wrenching paeans that stand among the best in their catalog. Mike Cooley threatens to steal the show with "Gravity's Gone." "Cocaine rich comes quick and that's why the small dicks have it all," he observes in the song, advising, "Don't ever let them make you feel like saying what you want is unbecoming/If you were supposed to watch your mouth all the time, I doubt your eyes would be above it."

Isbell's "Daylight" is the album's biggest reach, an unabashed pop ballad with a whiff of the '80s in the B-3 organs. Coming on the heels of "Goodbye," Hood's downbeat ode to a friendship beyond repair, the hopeful "Daylight" shines bright. Indeed, a current moves through the album, and it's not the rushing rapids of prior releases (aside from "Aftermath USA," a spot-on Stones nod). It's subtle and insistent, full of bittersweet moments and eventual acceptance, epitomized by Hood's album-closing classic, "A World of Hurt." It's haunting and irresistible.

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