Ever since Drive-By Truckers careened headlong into the public consciousness with 2001's unexpectedly brilliant "Southern Rock Opera," the Alabama-via-Athens quintet has been defying and exceeding expectation at every turn. With raw elegance and casual deliberation, the Truckers have put their unique sonic storytelling stamp on the Southern rock tradition with a succession of phenomenal concept albums. Given the formidable quality of the Truckers' A-list material, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the songs that haven't made the cut are almost as strong as the ones that did.
By way of proof, the Truckers offer up this solid set of tracks that represent alternate takes and unreleased tracks written and recorded between 2003 and 2008, during the creation of three albums - "Decoration Day," "The Dirty South" and front man Patterson Hood's second solo release - and just prior to the departure of guitarist and songwriter Jason Isbell. By its nature, there is no encompassing narrative to "The Fine Print," just an incredibly potent set of stand alone story songs that reinforce the Truckers' talent for effortlessly incorporating roots, hard rock and country music into their fascinating musical presentation.
The Truckers flex all of their muscles here, from the country brilliance of George Jones Talkin' Cell Phone Blues to the darkly hilarious roots blues sex-with-the-boss's-wife reverie of Mrs. Claus' Kimono to the poignant Southern newsreel of TVA to the damaged vet's bittersweet return from war in Mama Bake a Pie.
The Truckers also nail some great covers, from an achingly wrought take on Tom Petty's Rebels to a blistering version of Warren Zevon's Play it All Night Long, but the best of the bunch is a swaggering country rock spin on Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone, where Hood, guitarist Mike Cooley and bassist Shonna Tucker all take a turn at the mic.
"The Fine Print" doesn't have the woven cohesion of the Drive-By Truckers' recent work but it perfectly displays the impressive gifts that have defined their diverse, intriguing and magnificent catalog over the past decade.