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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Discovering Jason Isbell

For awhile I have wanted to do a post on Jason Isbell but felt he was just a little bit too new to my ears to give it the attention he deserved, so in order to set it straight and get a post about him here on Soundtrack4Life I asked a good buddy of mine, Colin Busher, from Ireland if he would kindly write a few words about the man. And as if by magic, here it is. Enjoy. Click on the links for further information and for music from Jason Isbell.

(Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins)

by Colin Busher

Towards the end of his book “Walk Like a Man”, Robert J. Wiersema laments the change in your reaction to discovering new music as you get older.

As a teenager, the effect is a very visceral, physical one, from devouring every note, pouring over every word. Your heart, he says expands in your chest as if it’s about to burst. We’ve all been there in our younger years, finally having found an artist that just ‘gets you and your life – understands you’ with their lyrics and music. As we get older the reaction to new music he argues is more cerebral, appreciative rather than passionate. You love the new music but you’re not IN love with it. He then proceeds to blow this argument out of the water as he discovers The Hold Steady.

One cold morning last October in Cologne the same thing happened to me. Walking off a hangover in the cold at 7am I was listening to Jason Isbell’s 'Southeastern album'. As I rambled around unfamiliar streets I found myself thinking just how good is this guy I’d never heard of until a few weeks previously. Songs like Cover Me Up, Traveling Alone, Live Oak, Different Days, Songs that She Sang in the Shower, Yvette and the kicker - Elephant, are all songs worthy of having a film made from them*. Not a dud in sight.

Isbell’s narratives read like those of a world weary soul having felt, loss, regret, loneliness, recrimination, love and salvation. A lifetimes worth of experiences. But he’s only 34. Man I can’t wait to hear what he’s gonna write when he’s 60!

That physical reaction that Wiersema speaks of in his book took hold of me that day. I went out determined to get hold of his back catalogue and over the next few months I have managed to get all but one of his previous albums on vinyl. Each one a corker in it’s own right.

A former member of Drive By Truckers (who I have to listen to – but am assured of great things by the good people on Facebook) Jason Isbell wrote material with them for the three albums, Decoration Day (2003), The Dirty South (2004) and Blessing and a Curse (2006).

Due to alcohol and drugs, Isbell is reported as saying “I’m lucky to have a second chance at all this. I don’t remember a lot of the good times from my days with the Truckers.” This time I want to remember it all. Thankfully his now wife Amanda Shires and friend Ryan Adams got him into rehab back in 2012 and everything seems to be going on an even keel at the moment.

I managed to catch him live in Dublin back in November for what for me was my gig of the year. At first appearing self effacing, he grew to be charming, funny and very appreciative of the audience telling tales of his exploits with the bottle, how he suffered his wife’s study of James Joyce and the enthusiasm of DBT fans. The songs of course stood out in their own right. Each one had the audience transfixed – particularly Yvette and my own favourite Different Days.**

Jason Isbell is on tour in the UK in May – make an effort to get to see him. You may just be transported back to those visceral, physical feelings of discovering new music you had when you were a teenager.

*I have plans for all the movies on Southeastern in my own mind’s eye!

** Doug note for Colin: found the video of the song from Dublin. Just for you.

More Music From 
Jason Isbell.
Live on KEXP 2013 (Full Performance).

Live at The World Cafe Philadelphia 2009.

Jason Isbell and Browlan Lollar Live in Macon 2009 (Full Show).

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
The Bluebird Theatre, Denver 04/09/13.
Relatively Easy.
Live Oak.
The Magician.
Traveling Alone.

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires.
Muitineer - Warren Zevon Cover (WRN Charlottesville 2014).
Traveling Alone (WRN Charlottesville 2014).
Live Oak (WRN Charlottesville 2014).
Outfit (King Tuts Glasgow 2013).
Stockholm (King Tuts Glasgow 2013).
Mutineer (King Tuts Glasgow 2013).
You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (DylanFest 2013).
Elephant (Stockholm 2013).
Pancho and Lefty (The Garage, London 2013).
Dress Blues (Hartford CT 2012).
Goddam Lonely Love (Brussels 2013).
Tour of Duty (Brussels 2013).
Decoration Day (Eindhoven 2013).

For More Information on Jason Isbell check out his website.

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