Record Reviews 

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A Blessing and a Curse

The Drive-By Truckers

(New West)

Three-guitar attack strips boogie and blues from the Skynyrd blueprint.

The title of the Drive-By Truckers' sixth studio album might refer to the band's bulging lineup. A longtime partnership of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the Drive-By Truckers are probably still best known for 2001's Southern Rock Opera, a double-disc opus dedicated to Lynyrd Skynyrd, arena rock, and all things Southern. But the band really hit its stride with the next album, 2003's career-best Decoration Day, the album where Hood and Cooley made room for a third singer-songwriter-guitarist, Jason Isbell. How could all three find their fullest expression in the context of the band?

Well, if A Blessing and a Curse is any indication, maybe they can't. The album's opening trifecta introduces Hood's bitterly lovelorn "Feb. 14"; Cooley's sardonic, depressive "Gravity's Gone"; Isbell's disappointed, pleading "Easy on Yourself." But after that, it's Hood's show, as he takes the lead on six of the eight remaining songs. Hood's always been the band's dominant figure but never as much as here. And it isn't like Decoration Day, where Isbell's two titles left you aching for more. Cooley's two contributions are fine, if not worthy of his personal canon. But Isbell's are subpar, making you think he's saving his best stuff for a forthcoming solo album. Hood's not at his best either. He surveys a sordid scene in brief, deft strokes on "Aftermath USA", while "Goodbye" and "Little Bonnie" are touching, conflicted farewells. But as a group, Hood's songs here aren't as memorably conversational or detailed as on 2004's The Dirty South, much less the highpoints of Decoration Day and Southern Rock Opera.

But if A Blessing and a Curse lacks the songwriting depth of Decoration Day, it does have a similar crispness. Recorded on the quick with indie/alt producer David Barbe, this is at heart a guitar record. Even when paying tribute to the band, the Truckers have been something of a post-punk Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their version of Skynyrd's layered three-guitar Southern rock is more stripped of boogie and blues than ever before: Hood, Cooley, and Isbell letting their guitars squawk rudely around the opening verse of "Aftermath USA" or coming together as songs like "Goodbye" and "Wednesday" resolve themselves in multi-guitar meltdowns. -- Chris Herrington


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Elan Vital

Pretty Girls Make Graves


In the world of easy-on-the-peepers girl/boy bands, this one should -- and may yet -- achieve a success comparable to what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs enjoyed a year or two ago. Pretty Girls Make Graves are a more engaging version of the same thing, with heavy doses of early Police, Fugazi, and the Adverts. (Although they are named after a Smiths song, they bear more than a passing resemblance to a female-led At the Drive-In.) But to their credit, Elan Vital carries an intangible modernity along with all of the easy reference points. That's what rock needs to move forward. Pretty Girls Make Graves downplay the retro crutches and sound like the '00s. ("The Magic Hour," "Parade," "Pyrite Pedestal," über-powerful opener "The Nocturnal House") -- Andrew Earles

Grade: B

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Thievery Corporation


DJ duo Rob Garza and Eric Hilton specialize in urbane, low-key dance music that might be labeled acid jazz or trip-hop. This mix disc pulls together artists as disparate as raga vocalist Ustad Sultan Khan, bossa-nova chanteuse Astrud Gilberto, hippie rockers the Doors, and adult-contempo songbird Sarah McLachlan, uniting them with skittery beats and a uniform, seductive groove. The result is so elegant and cosmopolitan it makes you want to buy a hip suit and come up with some fancy new drink. ("This Is Not a Love Song" -- Nouvelle Vague, "Originality" -- Thievery Corporation featuring Sister Nancy, "Khalghi Stomp," -- Transglobal Underground) -- CH

Grade: B

Local Jet Set DJs Dave Gass, Josh Swee, Azenty Sun, and Alan Elizar host a Versions listening party Saturday, May 13th, at

Automatic Slim's, at 9 p.m.



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