Latest ex-Trucker explores his musical identity on solo debut
After landing in the buzzing Drive-By Truckers shortly after Southern Rock Opera cast the group as the South’s new rock ’n’ roll saviors, Jason Isbell pulled a rabbit out of his six string, penning two of the best tracks on follow-up masterpiece Decoration Day. Following these mini-epics—the title track, with its Twainy Shepherdsons and Grangerfords-style vendetta; and affecting father-to-son ballad “Outfit”—was certainly a tall order for the young Isbell, but he shrugged off the pressure and continued to grow as an artist. On his solo debut, Isbell explores his no-frills Americana and rock influences, coming off as a more down-home Westerberg on “Brand New Kind of Actress”; trying on his Dr. John hat for some N’awlins-style blues; and dabbling in Aerosmith riffing and folk/blues a la J.J. Cale. But Isbell shines most when he’s not channeling; tracks like “Chicago Promenade,” “Shotgun Wedding” and tasteful protest ballad “Dress Blues” (which smartly chooses empathy over proselytizing) find his sound evolving into an alternately rocked-up and quietly satisfying maturity. It’ll be a tough road ahead for Isbell without the Truckers, but Sirens proves he’s got the talent to make it on his own.