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"When I'm an old man sitting around somewhere, I'll put that record on and I know that I'll smile," rattles Patterson Hood, the Mark Twain-adoring guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for one of the best and most literate rock n' roll acts anywhere, The Drive-by Truckers. Hood, at home in Athens, Ga. after a landmark performance at The Austin City Limits Festival, is talking about Decoration Day, the successfully ambitious follow-up to the band's acclaimed Southern Rock Opera. Perhaps one of the most honest-to-God Southern things you will ever hear or--for that matter--experience, Decoration Day is an imperfectly perfect masterpiece, a true rock opus built in large part with Dylan's wry humor, Faulkner's wondrous characters and Skynyrd's contagious seed. For the making of Opera, they ventured into the depths of hell (an unair-conditioned warehouse in the Southern summer). As a band, they surfaced with a two-disc epic. As a writer, Hood emerged with a set of "emotionally autobiographical" characters that would be the basis for Decoration Day--white trash pariahs, barroom acquaintances, outlaws and the dramas of plain Jane's and mullet-capped Joe's--that he met during what he describes as the worst part of his life. "While doing that record, we all went through a lot of personal bullshit that just ended up inspiring almost all of the songs on this record," Hood says. Special thanks to that bullshit this time around. 9:30 p.m. 967-9053. $12.

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