Jason Isbell: Sirens of the Ditch (New West/Elite)

Jason Isbell: Dress Blues
Jason Isbell: Sirens of the Ditch (New West/Elite)

True story: an advance CD copy of this album arrived at my place about six months ago and I lost it down the back of the bookcase. A fortnight ago I watched the new Drive-By Truckers album (see tag) slide through the same gap and in the course of rescuing it came upon this -- the debut solo album by a former Trucker who quit last year.

Coincidence? I think not.

Singer-guitarist Isbell is a song writer -- that is someone in love with words and narratives -- and here he kicks of with a ragged Stones-style riff-hard track which seems to refer to the woman killed at Phil Spector's mansion from Phil's skewed view (Brand New Kind of Actress) and later he delivers an aching narrative about a high school friend killed in Iraq (Dress Blues) and another about his grandfather.

Recorded at Muscle Shoals and with guests like Spooner Oldham, various Truckers, and co-produced by Trucker Patterson Hood, this starts as a rock album but quickly heads more into an alt.country area in a series of literate and thoughtful, soul-infused ballads.

There is swamp funk here (Down in a Hole), abrasive blues-rock (Try), the spirit of Gram Parsons/Ryan Adams, some torch-song country blues on Hurricanes and Hand Grenades . . .

This probably won't be the best solo album Isbell makes but it'll do more than very nicely for now.

If intelligent alt.country and/or the Truckers -- and especially the Truckers' slightly difficult new album -- mean anything to you then don't let this Isbell album slip through your grasp

As it did mine carelessly for too long.

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Chris - Dec 19, 2008

Ex Drive-By Trucker breaks free of the restrictions of his former band on this his solo debut. The quality of the songwriting is superb, with 'Dress Blues' being one of the most poignant commentaries on how war affects peoples'lives. Poppier and, as a result, easier to listen to than the Truckers magnus-opus made this one of my 'most-listened' to albums of 2008.

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