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Drive-By Truckers 

A Blessing and a Curse (New West)

The Drive-By Truckers have already established themselves as one of the best rock acts of the last 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 the new A Blessing and a Curse may be the Truckers' most enduring album yet. Not as yoked to the Southern-fried, country-rock sound of previous discs, Curse features several gut-wrenching paeans that stand among the best in the band's catalog. Mike Cooley threatens to steal the show on "Gravity's Gone" with lyrics such as "Cocaine rich comes quick, and that's why the small dicks have it all," while Jason Isbell's "Daylight" is the album's biggest reach, an unabashed pop ballad with a whiff of the '80s in the B3 organs. But coming on the heels of Patterson Hood's downbeat ode to a friendship beyond repair ("Goodbye"), the hopeful "Daylight" shines bright. Indeed, Curse is full of bittersweet moments and eventual acceptance, themes epitomized by Hood's album-closing classic, "A World of Hurt." With a tears-in-your-beer lope, Hood embraces the maxim "to love is to feel pain." It's haunting and irresistible.

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