Jason Isbell: Classic Or Dud?

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His DBT tracks are better than that Rob Malone guy's was and Cooley's got bigger stinkers on The Dirty South but does anybody else think Isbell's kind of a yawn? I'm weirded out how he sounds like such a drab bump on a log compared to Hood when Isbell's, like, MY age. I know some people are nuts about "Outfit," "Never Gonna Change," etc, but I'm wondering if anybody else kinda wishes he'd go run off and be Richard Bruckner's stunt double or something. Does he have any fans who aren't gonzo for alt-country in general?

Anybody seen a solo show or heard tracks from that upcoming solo album?

miccio (miccio), Saturday, 15 January 2005 19:23 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

also is there a difference between alt-country and y'allternative? cuz if there isn't I'm gonna say y'allternative from now on.

miccio (miccio), Saturday, 15 January 2005 19:27 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

i wouldn't paint him with that No Depression brush at all, maybe his songs aren't as ebullient as Hood or Cooley's, but that doesn't mean he's pretending to be a lovesick coal miner either. Maybe "The Day John Henry Died" is a little too anachronistic, but "Outfit" is straight-up blue-collar genius, and even though "Decoration Day" is rooted in that Hatfied-McCoy aesthetic, it's still got a whole lot more blood and guts than most y'allternative (I *shudder* at that term myself). And don't forget "Never Gonna Change," maybe it does sound like a Tom Petty outtake, but a damn good one just the same.

Josh Love (screamapillar), Saturday, 15 January 2005 19:47 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

He's great, but I do miss the days when more of Hood and Cooley's songs made it into the live sets.

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Sunday, 16 January 2005 19:57 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Crazy talk. Nothing against the great Colley and Hood, but Isbell is the best of the bunch. His solo album will be a masterpiece, just you watch.

Roger Fidelity (Roger Fidelity), Monday, 17 January 2005 00:59 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

His album will no doubt be great, but there is no way the band would be where they are today if it was just Cooley and Isbell in the band, and not Hood. They'd just be like a more ragged Son Volt with better songs. It's Hood that lends them their heart, humor, and outright charisma

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Monday, 17 January 2005 21:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Patterson Hood can get too "poetic" at times (though he and Cooley do seem to rock the hardest) and Cooley's lyrics can just make me cringe. Jason Isbell is probably the best lyricist of the three. He is by far the most empathetic, smartest and in tune with the realities he sings about.

danh (danh), Monday, 17 January 2005 21:51 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Isbell is an amazing writer. His influences are obvious, but so what? He had two songs on Decoration day and three on The Dirty South and the'yre all GREAT!, especially "Outfit" and "Danko/Manuel." The lyrics to "Outfit" are astonishing ... they're the compass that raise DD to classic status. Hood is a consistently good, but not consistently great songwriter (Like, his stuff on disc 1 of SRO is unreal, but his stuff on Dirty South, save for "The Buford Stick," is pretty damn dull). Cooley is a lightning in a bottle guy ... 2 out of 10 seem to work with him ... for every "Marry Me" and "Get Your Ass on the Plane," there are a bunch of slow-crawling country duds.

Chris O., Monday, 17 January 2005 22:19 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

what's a slow crawling country dud? "Daddy's Cup?" That song is the SHIT but maybe you gotta dig racing to appreciate it. I agree with you 100% about Hood on the last album, though, "The Buford Stick" is the only one I like, too. That falsetto thing he does on "Puttin' People on the Moon" and "The Sands of Iwo Jima" isn't really workin' for him.

My second favorite band of all time, though, so all is forgiven, always.

Roger Fidelity (Roger Fidelity), Monday, 17 January 2005 23:04 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

two years pass...

Saw dude play twice recently - first at an instore, solo save for a girl on fiddle. Really amazing performance. Didn't overstay his welcome, totally commanding and great throughout.

The show later that evening though, with his new band, was another story altogether.

While Isbell again was in top form, his band just isn't anywhere near as good as DBT (an inevitable comparison - sorry Jason) and isn't doing his songs any particular favors.

Worst of all was the Conor Oberst-doppleganger on lead guitar - proficient enough on lead but completely devoid of any personality or balls on his instrument whatsoever.

Maybe Jason was playing to the admittedly large contingent of visor-sporting, plastic cup hoisting frat troglodytes in the audience, but before I left halfway through, the band had already done two covers - "Do It Again" and "Psycho Killer," the latter of which featured said guitarist with the Wynona Ryder haircut on lead vocals. If I want to see a preening indie rocker bellow Talking Heads covers while winking at girls in the audience between verses, I'll go to karaoke night in Williamsburg. I was almost waiting for the inevitable "Blister In The Sun" riff, the appearance of which would have no doubt inspired a Roman orgy among the high-fiving frat brothers-in-arms squeezed in up front.

When Jason played any of his DBT songs, the lack of muscle behind him made it almost hard to watch.

For what it's worth, though, the audience were captivated throughout. Curse Bonnaroo and all it represents!

Sorry this reads like a shitty newspaper review, I'm hungover.

If Assholes Could Fly This Place Would Be An Airport, Thursday, 6 September 2007 11:20 (ten years ago) Permalink

Well, if I saw that last set I'd feel hungover too. What a shame, but makes me even more thankful for the studio performances, mostly backed by other Truckers (including John Neff on steel guitar, now taking Jason's place in DBT, apparently)and Spooner Oldham, and I think David Hood's on there too. There's also a really good track on his myspace, "When The Well Runs Dry," credited to the Truckers, damn sure should have been on somebody's album, maybe that lack is a symptom of something (like the title). He's mentioned Eudora Welty's short stories in interviews, and his songs make me think of Welty times Zevon (Z collab'd with Paul Muldoon etc, so maybe could've happened, if she were a guy and younger) Not Z's "Carmelita" tearjerking but sardonic lyricism, some kind of compassion on Jason's part, at least implied by careful consideration of his characters, however crispy they be. It's really better than what he did with the Truckers. anyway, here's my review:

dow, Thursday, 6 September 2007 19:25 (ten years ago) Permalink

five years pass...

Southeastern his best solo album?

A deeper shade of lol (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 21 June 2013 13:06 (four years ago) Permalink

Easily, but it's also his most start to finish consistent. Then again, to me the lyrics are the selling point. The music is largely Son Volt snoozy on the first couple listens, with an over-reliance on 3/4.

Josh in Chicago, Friday, 21 June 2013 13:11 (four years ago) Permalink

Yes. I can't listen to the whole thing straight through – yet.

A deeper shade of lol (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 21 June 2013 13:13 (four years ago) Permalink

I keep meaning to listen to this. That NY Times profile has me interested, plus folks who saw him talk and play at EMP in New Orleans (I was in the other room checking out a zydeco and Cajun talk with archival photos)


curmudgeon, Friday, 21 June 2013 14:23 (four years ago) Permalink

I want to like the album a lot more than I actually do ; (

More Than a Century With the Polaris Emblem (calstars), Friday, 21 June 2013 15:04 (four years ago) Permalink

I really like it. It's definitely a, idk, heavy(?) listen, it's not really quite light enough to put on repeat and breeze through a few times...but all the songs really sit with you. Which is a really nice change.

set the controls for the heart of the sun (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 21 June 2013 15:15 (four years ago) Permalink

He seems a bit young for the "all of these songs are about alcoholism" album, doesn't he?

kaleb h. (Everything You Like Sucks), Friday, 21 June 2013 15:48 (four years ago) Permalink

not too young for a (reportedly) violent alcoholic

A deeper shade of lol (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 21 June 2013 15:56 (four years ago) Permalink

He's a major talent, and this is probably his best record. It's also pretty down and not all that fun. Best news is there are no more Stax-style ballads like Cigarettes and Wine.

kornrulez6969, Friday, 21 June 2013 16:53 (four years ago) Permalink

i liked that >:(

set the controls for the heart of the sun (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 21 June 2013 19:09 (four years ago) Permalink

"Live Oak" and "Elephant" needed to be Truckerized.

A deeper shade of lol (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 22 June 2013 12:26 (four years ago) Permalink


set the controls for the heart of the sun (VegemiteGrrl), Saturday, 22 June 2013 16:10 (four years ago) Permalink

omg SO happy he's over that 'soul singer' bullshit

Haven't heard this yet, wanna make time to really listen. Color me cautiously optimistic. I recall saying to my then-wife when we saw DBT on the DD tour, "If that kid ever goes solo, he's gonna blow the fuck up." I'd like to be vindicated, at last, because up until now, his was a case of seriously wasted talent IMO (stray songs on various solo albums notwithstanding).

Jimmywine Dyspeptic, Saturday, 22 June 2013 19:37 (four years ago) Permalink

This is good if staid in that singer-songwriterly way.

A deeper shade of lol (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 22 June 2013 19:42 (four years ago) Permalink

seven months pass...


But as earnest as he sounded Tuesday, Isbell’s performance still registered somewhere between excellent and just fine. He was undislikable.

The undislikables occupy a unique space in pop music. Their songs are filled with personality and emotion, but never too much. They experiment, but not without safety goggles. They put a premium on craftsmanship and confidence, often stamping out any whiffs of danger or weirdness. And their music seems unimpeachable, leaving you with an in-the-middle feeling that makes you wonder whether these people have achieved a state of enlightenment or have been trapped in purgatory.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 30 January 2014 16:57 (four years ago) Permalink

Commenters on that review are outraged by Chris Richard's stance. I understand what he means.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 30 January 2014 20:55 (four years ago) Permalink

p sure the word is 'nice'

set the controls for the heart of the sun (VegemiteGrrl), Thursday, 30 January 2014 21:30 (four years ago) Permalink

Is he really lopping together all singer songwriters? Honestly, guys with guitars who bare their souls are so unhip they might as well be weirdo outliers. If Steve Earle and John prine are his play it safe peeps, isbell should be pretty cool with this.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 30 January 2014 21:39 (four years ago) Permalink

He calls the Roots undislikeable as well. I think he means NPR-friendly

curmudgeon, Friday, 31 January 2014 04:23 (four years ago) Permalink

"Elephant" was probably my favorite song of last year, and "Relatively Easy" wasn't far behind. If he ever writes a whole album that good...

Simon H., Friday, 31 January 2014 04:42 (four years ago) Permalink

He is an obvious talent. The problem is, anybody's songs are going to sound better when they're played by DBT.

kornrulez6969, Friday, 31 January 2014 04:49 (four years ago) Permalink

Which is doubly frustrating because the actual DBT songwriters have been churning out less and less interesting material over the last few albums (imo).

Simon H., Friday, 31 January 2014 04:57 (four years ago) Permalink

Southeastern goes way beyond nice. And it's not just about the lyrics. From my Nashville Scene ballot, "In The Shadows of the Warm Red Comments" http://thefreelancementalists.blogspot.com/2014/01/14th-annual-etc-in-shadows-of-warm-red.html
Jason Isbell's Here We Rest often relied on the words, and some live versions were even shakier, but on Southeastern he's got his tuneful tightness back (playing a lot of the mostly acoustic instruments himself; the 400 Unit plug in on cue and on point, but don't get co-billing). Time to put the spotlight and the pressure back on himself--the voice was never a problem, which was a problem. No matter how wasted and/or woolgathering he got, could always release a few more of those high lonesome sweet bluesy Lowell George notes, and tell himself everything was still okay and not okay, in that alone-together way.
The words are better too, deep and horizontally active enough, back and forth in time and space--the richest lode is the opener, "Cover Me Up", with some kind of imaginative but not imaginary although certainly motorvatingly metaphorical invalid, with strong lungs, calling for "medical assistance, or a magnolia breeze", while he and significant other are riding a flood in a cold house "I ain't chopping no wood...hang up your wet dress" and get that cover workin'. This is also very tender-sounding, since the lonesome monster is now ready to face whatever reality may and will surely bring--whole album's known knowns wed to known unknowns: very family values, very commuting-community-minded, very country in its way (so this only looks like a Paste list, see?)

dow, Friday, 31 January 2014 14:36 (four years ago) Permalink

Which is doubly frustrating because the actual DBT songwriters have been churning out less and less interesting material over the last few albums (imo).

Ironically, it's been more and more "interesting," imo - in terms of ideas and surprising detours - just less and less strong. They were such a great outlet for Isbell, because he can always be counted on a for a couple of absolutely outstanding tracks per effort, just not quite an entire outstanding album yet. He's young, though. 15 years younger than Hood, I think.

Josh in Chicago, Friday, 31 January 2014 15:06 (four years ago) Permalink

I read xchuckx E. being harsh on Jason's vocals

curmudgeon, Saturday, 1 February 2014 16:30 (four years ago) Permalink

Which is doubly frustrating because the actual DBT songwriters have been churning out less and less interesting material over the last few albums (imo).

― Simon H., Thursday, January 30, 2014 11:57 PM (2 days ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

So wrong

Jimmywine Dyspeptic, Saturday, 1 February 2014 20:37 (four years ago) Permalink

DBT's new album is a bore though.

Bryan Fairy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 1 February 2014 20:48 (four years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

"Super 8" is the song that needed the Truckers the worst - songwriting as strong as "Elephant" but such painfully boring country-rock.

Kiarostami bag (milo z), Wednesday, 14 May 2014 04:04 (four years ago) Permalink

i saw the Truckers live last month

- new bass player is distractingly goofy. he's fine as a player but he's like this grinning jackolantern all the time, it's SO weird

- setllist was suuuper uneven, going from blistering rock into pensive cooley so much it was giving me whiplash

- i've seen them four times before this show, and this is the first time i was almost completely bored. they were fine, but fine aint a dbt show


they seem to be focusing on sounding cleaner, singing better etc but their rawness was the appeal for me. i love them but idk who this band is now?

set the controls for the heart of the sun (VegemiteGrrl), Wednesday, 14 May 2014 05:04 (four years ago) Permalink

six months pass...


'The Voice' producer reportedly asks Jason Isbell to audition for the NBC show

Johnny Fever, Wednesday, 19 November 2014 22:35 (three years ago) Permalink

He was great last week at this Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute show i went to last week at the Fox Theater (great venue by the way)


Prince Kajuku (Bill Magill), Wednesday, 19 November 2014 22:49 (three years ago) Permalink

xpost loooooooool that is hilarious and sad

difficult-difficult lemon-difficult (VegemiteGrrl), Thursday, 20 November 2014 02:48 (three years ago) Permalink

Sad for the producer's cred, happy otherwise: he scanned the invite into his twitter feed (so that's the basis of "reportedly," from the hoss's mouth) and considered what his audition material might consist of (I suggested he hold out for Dancing With The Stars). Would love to see Blake Shelton's big ol' half-bright face if he did come out there on The Voice (that's the one Shelton's on, right?)

dow, Thursday, 20 November 2014 06:15 (three years ago) Permalink

("lemon-difficult": excellent, especially if related to #DonLemonReporting, but either way.)

dow, Thursday, 20 November 2014 06:17 (three years ago) Permalink

seven months pass...

The new record is streaming on NPR right now. It's very good, similar in sound to Southeastern. He'll never rock like he did with DBT but he'll probably end up the more popular act.

kornrulez6969, Monday, 13 July 2015 16:37 (two years ago) Permalink

From Rolling Country, my initial impressions:

Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free: doesn't travel with the more sustained undertone of excitement found in Southeastern---recorded sober, apparently!---but "Are you takin' the grown-up dose?" is still the question, or one of 'em, and it's often remarkable what can sprout from dry, quiet starting over, especially when the past gets out of bed and comes cruising through one's present-day/night of carefully worked out details, brushing them just a hair or three from conventional alignment. Or not, in which case it's conspicuous by etc., but always the singer's cue.
"Children of Children" and "24 Frames" will be the relatively big (npr) radio cuts, if any are, but most tunes as well as words tend to take fetching turns.

― dow, Friday, July 10, 2015 4:38 PM (3 days ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Not to say this 'un doesn't *also* sound like it was written and recorded sober---it does, and it also sounds like that's what it's about: dealing with the unfiltered, or differently filtered---but Southeastern seemed like more of an adventure.

― dow, Friday, July 10, 2015 4:42 PM (3 days ago) Bookmark Flag Post PermalinkMaybe it's just subtle for me---diggin it tho!

dow, Monday, 13 July 2015 22:51 (two years ago) Permalink

"Children of Children" is fucking brutal -

I was riding on my mother's hip, she was shorter than the corn
All the years I took from her, just by being born.

Didn't mean to break the cycle

You were riding on your mother's hip she was shorter than the corn
All the years you took from her, just by being born.

Kiarostami bag (milo z), Saturday, 18 July 2015 17:43 (two years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Is any of his solo stuff better than "outfit?"

calstars, Saturday, 3 December 2016 00:13 (one year ago) Permalink

probably not, about half of Southeastern and the 400 Unit album are nearly as good though

a serious and fascinating fartist (Simon H.), Saturday, 3 December 2016 00:22 (one year ago) Permalink

his entire solo career is a colossal bore imo

Wimmels, Saturday, 3 December 2016 00:26 (one year ago) Permalink

Right? I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way.

calstars, Saturday, 3 December 2016 00:30 (one year ago) Permalink

It's like he needed to prove himself, or he needed the competition, and then the fire went out.

calstars, Saturday, 3 December 2016 00:31 (one year ago) Permalink

Totally. I like all but one or two of the handful of songs he contributed to DBT (and really like a couple). Dude peaked early (much like his hero Ryan Adams imo)

Wimmels, Saturday, 3 December 2016 00:35 (one year ago) Permalink

His best stuff now is definitely in a different register from his DBT songs, but I still think "Cover Me Up," "Elephant," "Relatively Easy," "No Choice in the Matter" and a few others measure up just fine.

a serious and fascinating fartist (Simon H.), Saturday, 3 December 2016 01:44 (one year ago) Permalink

yeah there's been no drop in quality imo

Flamenco Drop (VegemiteGrrl), Saturday, 3 December 2016 05:20 (one year ago) Permalink

Every song I hear of his is really good, and then I hear a second song and don't want to hear any more.

Josh in Chicago, Saturday, 3 December 2016 18:22 (one year ago) Permalink

I'm sure he thinks eschewing rock 'n' roll adduces his maturity. I suppose artists earn the right not to give a damn about commercial considerations. A pity.

The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 3 December 2016 18:39 (one year ago) Permalink

if only he would come to ilm and read this thread, maybe then he'd do a better job of steering his career *eyeroll*

dude put out the best record he has ever been involved in three years ago, at age 34. that's an opinion. as far as commercial considerations go, he's doing the best he's ever done as we speak. that's a fact.

alpine static, Saturday, 3 December 2016 20:26 (one year ago) Permalink

I hate to be a music geek cliche but yes, the old stuff with the Truckers is best.

kornrulez6969, Saturday, 3 December 2016 20:32 (one year ago) Permalink

tbf not a lot of people's solo stuff is better than "outfit"

Larry Elleison (rogermexico.), Saturday, 3 December 2016 20:35 (one year ago) Permalink

A mean industry person in Nashville once told me (before all the Americana awards and stuff, naturally) "he was better when he was fat and drunk." And while I definitely believe the "damaged artist" myth (and propagation thereof) is tired at best and irresponsible at worst, I can't help agreeing with that Nashville dickhead about the declining caliber of Isbell's work since becoming a, err, friend of Bill.

Wimmels, Saturday, 3 December 2016 20:53 (one year ago) Permalink

Also, the 400 Unit, while a fine band, are not DBT. Having them playing your songs clearly helps.

kornrulez6969, Saturday, 3 December 2016 21:27 (one year ago) Permalink

six months pass...

This new record is fantastic. His most upbeat set of songs ever.

kornrulez6969, Friday, 16 June 2017 23:26 (one year ago) Permalink

Pretty sure "If We Were Vampires" is the best song he's ever written.

Ⓓⓡ. (Johnny Fever), Friday, 23 June 2017 05:12 (eleven months ago) Permalink

I'm still not a fan but, yeah, it's a terrific batch of smart songs.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 23 June 2017 10:25 (eleven months ago) Permalink

I love this new album

The early 400 Unit albums often had good uptempo numbers music-wise but werent always written so well, or were kind of rambling - and his solo songs were almost always well written but usually slower musically

This is a perfect mix of his writing & the band's talents so you get some really searing lyrics with a faster pace.

It's a great driving record, I have found :D

I mean you can pine for DBT's raw rockin all you want but I dunno if he'll ever go that way, since a lot of that sound was driven by Cooley & Hood's style more than his and he seems to favor a more polished sound generally

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 23 June 2017 15:55 (eleven months ago) Permalink

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