Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch (New West) – Review

The Drive By Truckers built their reputation on the fine Southern tradition storytelling. In the Truckers tales the noble and notorious inhabit the homes, streets and woods of the deep South America living life and dealing with hardships and, many times, just getting by, or if situations arise just getting even. Using what country artists call “three chords and the truth” the DBT distilled it all down with a potent tri-axe attack mixer by way of Rossington/Collins to create great genre-bending music that challenged all “Southern-rock” assumptions.

Part of the fun of telling tales is swapping, and many times trying to top, your friends in the process.  Greenville, Alabama guitarist and songwriter, Jason Isbell’s five year stretch with the Truckers gave the other principles Patterson Hood (Vocals and Guitar) and Mike Cooley (Vocals and Guitar) a run for their imaginative money.

Arriving just after the Truckers critically acclaimed Southern Rock Opera, Isbell’s freshman effort with the band resulted in one of their most focused efforts, The brilliant “Decoration Day”, in which Isbell penned and sang the title track as well as the askew but honest ode to Southern family values “Outfit.”

After Isbells abrupt but amicable split with the Truckers earlier this year (which may, or may not have had something to do with his divorce from Trucker bassist Shonna Tucker, Jason has now decided to step up and face the music as a solo artist. Isbell’s work seemed exude a sense of authority and confidence, and his new release “Sirens of the Ditch” (New West) emanates that same power and has given Isbell the room to streatch as many of these cuts you could not imagine on a DBT album.

Kicking things off with “A New Kind of Actress” is the kind of sloppy-pop song that is reminiscent of the Replacements at their best work and highlights Isbell’s excellent slide guitar work.

“Down in the Hole” is a slinky-blues piece a la Junior Kimbrough about a man that rises to power in a small town and “Try” is a loping rock monster about woman troubles (you can’t tell her nothing she don’t know/ she’ll chop down every living thing you grow.) Nice!

“Chicago Promenade” is a cheerful piano driven song reminiscent of a Faces’ Ronnie Lane compositions and would fit nicely on a Sunday morning. 

“Dress Blues” is the most powerful cut of the album. Given the current climate of war in the Nation the theme of a hometown boy dying too young and “Sleeping in your dress blues” will make even the hardest heart weep.

“Grown” is an excellent work reflecting on adult life and love and “Hurricanes and Hand Grenades” channels George Jones by way of Ray Charles for a honky-tonk bluesy barn-burner. “In a Razor Town” a dobro laced song of small town heartache that brings to mind vintage Steve Earle.

Though I was initially bummed that the man that penned the brilliant “Danko/Manuel” was leaving the Truckers, “Sirens of the Ditch” is a fine first solo effort that does ease some of the misery and show sign of great things to come.



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