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Wednesday, 12 April 2006 00:00

Recommended diversions

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Drive-By Truckers: A Blessing and a Curse

I first saw the Truckers eight or nine years ago in a little dive in Asheville called the Basement. There might have been 20 people there, including the staff and guests of the band, but even then it was clear they were onto something beyond their “gimmick” — Lynyrd Skynyrd reincarnated as an alternative rock band — it was equally clear that these guys were in it for the long haul.

They loved to play, played for hours, played as long as anyone could stand it, and indeed they have since become famous for their wild, sprawling shows.

Now the band has released its tightest record yet, trading long, rambling stories and guitar noise for relatively traditional, jam-free songs. Gone, too, are the seemingly ubiquitous references to all things southern and particularly southern icons — Ronnie Van Zandt (of course), George Wallace, Sheriff Buford T. Pusser, et al. This album has no unifying themes, no pretensions of being what used to be called a “concept” album. It’s just a great collection of songs. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cooley’s “Space City,” about a man trying to cope with the loss of his dead wife, is the most beautiful and best song he has ever written. Some of those doting critics I mentioned earlier have anointed the Truckers “the world’s great rock band.” While such proclamations amount to little more than a parlor game, I can think of no current rock and roll band that has released a more consistently excellent body of work in the last 10 years. If A Blessing and a Curse is a departure in some ways, it is also the Truckers, still rocking out, still screwing up, still living to tell the tale.

Baseball

For the truly hardcore, it begins in late February, when the pitchers and catchers report. In Florida, the boys of summer have emerged from winter’s hibernation and are now working on their curveballs and sliders. It’s like a promise, a Valentine, sealed with a kiss and sent north, an announcement that spring is on the way, that our lifelong love affair is about to resume. Through the last weeks of March, we scour the box scores, knowing that the games don’t really count, that the statistics don’t matter much, but hoping we’ll see signs of life from our favorite teams. Is that old pitcher we’ve worried about all winter really washed up? What about our shortstop, recovering from a major surgery? What about the prospects, the kid who terrorized pitchers in Double A ball last season? Is he ready to make the jump all the way to the show this year? How does he look against Randy Johnson? Against Pedro Martinez?

April arrives. Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Orioles arrive. Tigers and Cubs arrive. White Sox and Red Sox arrive. Braves and Indians arrive. And the damned Yankees arrive, the evil empire. Outside, a breeze stiffens, and blossoms swarm over parked cars, giving way to the greenest leaves. About two hours before the game, we fire up our grills, drop the ribeyes in the marinade, uncork a good bottle of Shiraz, put on some Ella Fitzgerald or Doc Watson. By the time we’re midway into the meal, Smoltz is warming up in the bullpen.

— By Chris Cox

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