:: Jason Isbell :: Larimer Lounge :: August 9 ::
By Brian F. Johnson
Jason Isbell came into his own with the southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, over the course of a six-year tenure with the band. He appeared on three of the Trucker’s albums and wrote and performed tracks like “Outfit,” “Decoration Day,” “Never Gonna Change” and “Goddamn Lonely Love” as one of the three front men and lead guitarists for the band.
But this year, in what came as a surprise to many Truckers fans, Isbell left the band and has already double-clutched into high gear to release a solo album that he has been working on for the better part of four years.
Part of Isbell’s departure from the Truckers most certainly had to do with his divorce from his wife, Drive-By Truckers’ bassist, Shonna Tucker. But in a recent interview with The Marquee, Isbell said that the split was inevitable, as the lives of his bandmates started to take a different turn.
“We were just moving in different directions, musically and otherwise, right now,” Isbell said. “It has a lot to do with the fact that most of them are at a point in their life right now where they’ve got families and have got their priorities in a different place than they were 15 years ago. They don’t want to tour all the time and I don’t blame them, but I’m still at a point where I kind of need that. So this gives me the opportunity to do that; to go hit the road and stay gone forever.”
All that being said, however, Isbell’s first foray into his solo career is essentially the Drive-By Truckers album that the Truckers never released. Every member of the band, except Mike Cooley, plays on Sirens of the Ditch, and fellow front man Patterson Hood co-produced the album with Isbell. Isbell is also joined by Hood’s father, David Hood, and legendary keyboard player Spooner Oldham, who most recently played with the Truckers on their Dirt Underneath Tour.
From the rock-driven opener “Brand New Kind of Actress” to softer numbers like “Dress Blues,” Isbell showcases tracks that could have comfortably fit on some Truckers albums, but there is also an underlying subtly on the tracks that could come from the freedom Isbell is feeling. “I pretty much write songs first and then figure out where they go afterwards,” Isbell said. “But I hadn’t considered these for Truckers records. For me, these fit better stylistically for my solo stuff. I wanted something more pop oriented that still gravitated toward the darker issues in life. I like weird pop music that talks about strange things, but that you don’t realize it because you’re singing along with the hook.”
Isbell continued to explain that, for him, happy songs are harder to write. “It’s hard to write a song about a happy topic. I have some songs with some humor, but it’s difficult to write about being happy and have it be sincere. So I pretty much end up focusing on things that I’d like to fix, or my reactions to things that I feel are unfixable in my life or other people’s lives,” Isbell said, while lighting another cigarette.
While dark topics and being solo played a role in the final sound of Sirens of the Ditch, Isbell said that a big part of the album’s final feel can be attributed to FAME recording studio in Isbell’s hometown of Muscle Shoals, Ala., where the album was recorded. Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman, and Otis Redding, among others, recorded at the studio in the 1960s and ’70s and helped define the Muscle Shoals sound.
Isbell said he really tried to capture that sound on Sirens, but what probably makes that sound most prevalent is the loose nature of collaboration that the album has. “I just got whoever was available at the time I was ready to record. And there were a lot of people in town, when I was recording,” Isbell said, explaining that he took snippets of time in between Trucker’s tours to get into the studio. “It was a fun record to make, but I wish I had a more concise amount of time to just go in and get it done. The recording was split up over two-and-a-half or three years.” Despite that, the album has a continual flow, difficult to achieve under those circumstances.
Isbell said that while he will push Sirens for a while, his next goal is to get back into the studio with the band he’s currently touring with. The four-piece of Isbell, Jimbo Hart on bass, Ryan Tillery on drums and Browan Lollar on guitar, has been on the road for the summer tour, but Isbell pointed out that none of these musicians played on the album. He added that while he will be playing music from the new album, he will also throw in some of the songs he wrote and performed with Drive-By Truckers.
:: Jason Isbell ::
:: Larimer Lounge :: August 9 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Drive-By Truckers
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• James McMurtry