Trucking Ahead

Sirens of the Ditch (New West Records)
Jason Isbell

By Andrea Hunt

The Muscle Shoals Sound - a mélange of Southern rock, country and soul - flows through the veins of Jason Isbell, a native Alabamian whose solo debut, Sirens of the Ditch, features a more bluesy and power-pop sound than Isbell's earlier work with the critically acclaimed, self-styled psycho-billy rockers, Drive-By Truckers.

One may expect acrimony resulting from Isbell's exodus from both his band and his marriage (to Drive-By Truckers bassist Shonna Tucker, no less) to permeate Sirens. Not so: because the album was recorded over four years and because Drive-By Truckers must possess the most extraordinary kind of Southern gentility, his former bandmates Tucker, Patterson Hood, Brad Morgan and John Neff contributed to Sirens.

Isbell's new, doubly-single status may be the reason that, though remaining true to Isbell's Muscle Shoals roots, Sirens does not attempt to duplicate the sound that earned Drive-By Truckers a cult following. While the album opener "Brand New Kind of Actress" confirms that Isbell's talent as a musician and a songwriter was integral to DBT, the power-pop "Try," swamp-rocking "Down in a Hole" and smoldering, soulful "Hurricanes and Hand Grenades" highlight Isbell's experimentation and demonstrate his dexterity as a modern Americana artist.

Sirens' lyrics are decidedly more personal and introspective than Isbell's earlier work. In "Chicago Promenade," written about his grandfather, Isbell announces, "There's so much more to suffer through/Before I meet again with you." And "Blue Dress," arguably the album's most politically charged track, pays tribute to a Marine from Isbell's hometown who was killed in Iraq.

Echoing the populist spirit that animates folk standards like John Prine's "Paradise" and Woodie Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd," Isbell's inquiry, "What did they say when they shipped you away to fight somebody's Hollywood war?" evokes the wry indignation common to protest music.

Isbell will be in Lexington on Friday, October 19, at the Dame, along with the Whigs; he will also perform November 9 at 8 Seconds Saloon in Indianapolis, opening for Cracker.

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