Eleven years after releasing their first album and eight years after redefining themselves with Southern Rock Opera, the rare concept album whose execution was just as impressive as its ambitions, the Drive-By Truckers have gained a richly deserved reputation as one of the hardest-working and most rewarding rock bands for over a decade. Having cranked out five great albums in seven years, they presumably felt bad about not having a new studio effort for 2009, so they've offered fans not one but two time-honored stopgaps -- a live album (actually an installment in New West's Live from Austin, TX series of live discs drawn from the archives of Austin City Limits), and a collection of outtakes and rare tracks. The Fine Print: A Collection of Outtakes and Rarities brings together a dozen songs that, for a variety of reasons, didn't appear on one of the DBTs' albums, including four covers, alternate versions of two tracks, and a few numbers that didn't fit the pattern of the sets for which they were intended. The oddball Christmas tune "Mrs. Claus' Kimono" is the only tune here that was clearly left behind for reasons of quality (it's an amusing novelty but not much more), though "The Great Car Dealer War" has a hard time capturing the sense of menace that permeates The Dirty South, though it tells its story quite well. While the alternate take of "Goode's Field Road" doesn't match the version that later appeared on Brighter Than Creation's Dark, the re-recording of "Uncle Frank" that appears here rescues the song from the band's flawed debut album, and along with "Little Pony and the Great Big Horse" serves as a reminder that Mike Cooley is truly this group's secret weapon as a vocalist and songwriter. Jason Isbell's "TVA" doesn't really need to be seven minutes long, but it's full of brilliant moments, and along with "When the Well Runs Dry," stands as a reminder of how much he brought to the band before departing for a solo career. The cover of Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long" sounds as gritty as Zevon was reaching for in his original, and Tom T. Hall's "Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)" is a brilliant choice for a cover, sounding as sadly pertinent and tragically honest as it did when it was written in the late '60s. And though the world doesn't really need another Bob Dylan cover, the version of "Like a Rolling Stone" that closes this set shows this band full of gifted writers who understand how to approach a great song. Like most odds and ends collections, The Fine Print is uneven and doesn't match the consistent quality of the Drive-By Truckers' usual work, but nearly all of these tracks are too genuinely good to have been left to gather dust, and even the DBTs' scraps can make for a pretty satisfying meal.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming