Posted by: will | August 30, 2007

Music Review – Jason Isbell


Jason Isbell “Sirens Of The Ditch” (New West)

While I was disappointed to hear that Jason Isbell had left the Drive-By Truckers earlier this year, it certainly seems to have paved the way for his solo career to start out on such a high note. Of course, it might have something to do with the exceptional material that makes up Isbell’s debut. Fans of the Truckers and what Isbell brought to the band should have a whole lot to love with Sirens Of The Ditch. The album has been in the works for quite a while now, well before Isbell’s split from the band actually. In fact, with the players here, Sirens Of The Ditch may look like just an extension of The Truckers. Bassist Shonna Tucker, drummer Brad Morgan, and lead man Patterson Hood all appear. Hood actually steps in and co-produces Sirens Of The Ditch.

Even with three of the other Truckers on board, Sirens Of The Ditch leans less on southern rock and more on dark, bluesy and soulful material. It is a style that works well with Isbell’s sharp vocal range and engaging songwriting. “Hurricanes and Hand Grenades” is the song that sticks out the most on the album from Isbell’s past work with The Truckers. The track has a familiar theme but the roles are reversed. Here, Isbell sounds like a man scorned. His voice floats above the R&B laced backdrop and the song sounds absolutely timeless. “Down In A Hole” is another R&B influenced track that takes a subtler approach. Isbell shows he has some pop chops as well. Despite the grieving lyrics, “Chicago Promenade” hops around and shows off a side that Isbell has never showcased. The upbeat “Grown” is another song that gives off a certain pop sheen. “Dress Blues” is the most affecting song on Sirens Of The Ditch. The song recalls a young man from Isbell’s hometown who was a Marine and died in the Middle East. It is heartbreaking in its delivery and showcases Isbell’s simple, yet striking lyrical strengths. Isbell pays tribute to his friend but makes his feelings known when he lyrically refers to the military efforts as Somebody’s Hollywood War. The heart-tugging continues with the immaculate “In A Razor Town” which matches Isbell’s sad words with some female vocal backdrops. “The Magician” is a jaunty banjo-picking piece that tells the tale of a sad magician. The dark “The Devil Is My Running Mate” surely must be a dagger thrown at politicians and perhaps the current administration specifically. The song continues the depth and diversity of this winding and thought-provoking record. Isbell proves so much within Sirens Of The Ditch, especially that he can write and sing just about any style he so desires.

At times Sirens Of The Ditch does feel like a compilation of songs from Jason Isbell’s notebook over the last few years rather than a cohesive album. But, Isbell’s material actually works to balance itself out by the end of the album. From intelligent rockers to heart tugging ballads to light hearted romps, the range and depth of Isbell’s songwriting is stunning to say the least. This is a collection of songs that demands respect and admiration. However, as good as Sirens Of The Ditch is, I have a strong feeling Isbell’s best work is still yet to come. At only 28 years old, Jason Isbell certainly has an amazing road ahead of him.

RIYL: Drive-By Truckers, The Replacements, Wilco


Jason Isbell – Chicago Promenade (mp3)

Jason Isbell – Dress Blues (live video)


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