Jason Isbell’s music is raw in substance but perfectly polished in execution, sort of like Neil Young sitting in with Crosby, Stills & Nash before he signed on the dotted line. Perfect words about a far from perfect world set to haunting melodies, sung in a voice that is cautious, road weary and earnest, all at the same time.
Isbell hails from north Alabama, right on the Tennessee line, but now lives the Nashville life with his wife, Lubbock born songwriter and performer Amanda Shires. His music is pure southern grit, no-nonsense country that carries in it the diverse influences of rural Alabama. Raised in a musical family, he spent considerable time on his grandparents’ farm and in the Pentecostal church. He also absorbed the black culture all around him, and credits much of his sound to the “soul-influenced rock and roll and country” music that grew in the farmlands around Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Isbell cut his teeth with the Drive-By Truckers, joining that notorious outfit at the age of twenty-two, about the time that Austin label New West signed the Truckers in 2001. Isbell contributed songs and performed on three albums, Decoration Day, The Dirty South, and Blessing and a Curse, before leaving the band in the spring of 2007 to pursue his own vision.
Jason released his first solo effort, Sirens of the Ditch, in 2007, and shortly began forming what would become his regular band, The 400 Unit, an assemblage of crack musicians mostly from Muscle Shoals, named for a psychiatric unit in Florence, Alabama. In 2009 came Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, and Here We Rest in 2011.
His real breakthrough came in 2013 with the release of Southeastern, a dark meditation on the perils of addiction and the miracles of the new love he had found with Shires. In his years with the Drive-By Truckers, Jason became mired in the mud of intoxicants, but came clean in 2012 with the help of Amanda and his friend Ryan Adams. He followed in 2015 with Something More than Free, and Isbell is now receiving the national attention he very well deserves.
Often backed by Shires on fiddle and vocals, Isbell can rock the timbers but finds his real stride with country meditations on life and love, delivering lyrics and melodies with equally stunning effect.
Jason and Amanda had a daughter, Mercy Rose, in 2015.
Do not miss Jason Isbell. Best thing out of Alabama since muscadine wine!
Three things you should know about Jason Isbell: (1) accompanied by the great Elizabeth Cook, he has nodded towards Texas with covers of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and “Tecumseh Valley”, (2) his grandfather was a Penecostal preacher, and (3) he toured for a while with the band Centro-Matic from Denton, Texas.