Jason Isbell Forum

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    • Jason Isbell Forum

      Jason Isbell's Website
      Jason's Tour Schedule
      Twitter: @jasonisbell

      Jason is the 2014 Americana Music Awards winner for artist, album (Southeastern) and song (CoverMe Up) of the year. In addition, he won the 2012 Americana award for song of the year for Alabama Pines from his third solo album, Here We Rest. Jason has five solo albums, including a live album, and three EP's to his credit and, before that, was a member of the southern alt-rock band, the Drive-By Truckers, for three of their best albums. His sixth album, Something More Than Free, will be released on July 17, 2015; the advance notices are enthusiastic. He is a native of Green Hill, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals, and is part of the extended musical family of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (more on that below).

      Southeastern appears to have been a turning point in Jason’s career. Its release created a surge of interest in his work and occasioned some of the best writing about him. The articles listed below provide a good introduction to Jason and insight into his work. They also are the source for the biographical summary that follows.

      Jason Isbell, Unloaded. New York Times Magazine.

      Jason Isbell, Happily Singing Sad Songs. Wall St. Journal,

      Jason Isbell Keeps On Truckin’.

      Since we’re here at TVF, Jason’s brush with The Voice is too good to pass up: TV invited Jason to be a contestant on Season 8. Jason tweeted out the invitation and then responded by, jokingly, accepting and stating: "My audition on 'The Voice' will be a solo vocal and French horn rendition of 'Oh Comely' by Neutral Milk Hotel. I will wear a #bikini."


      Jason began playing in local bars around Muscle Shoals and Florence, Alabama, when he was a sophomore in high school. The local bar bands he sat with were unique to the area. As the NYTM tells the story,

      "These weren’t just any musicians he was jamming with. Isbell grew up near Muscle Shoals, where artists like Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon made classic records with a tight-knit group of soulful session musicians, white guys who sounded black. These men included the bassist David Hood, the father of Patterson Hood, with whom Isbell would later play in the Drive-By Truckers."

      "'Those older guys would record behind other people during the day and go out and play these intense R.&B. covers at night,'" Isbell says. "'They took a real interest in me. They taught me a great deal.'"

      In particular, Jason developed a musical relationship with Hood, whose son Patterson was one of the founders, with Mike Cooley, of the Drive-By Truckers. Soon Jason began sitting in local sessions with Hood and Cooley. One night in 2001, at a house party where a reporter from Spin was coming to see the DBT, the band’s third guitarist (after Hood and Cooley) failed to show, and Jason sat in. From the NYTM:

      "'Jason happened to be there that night, and we had an empty chair," Hood says. "He ended up going on tour with us." Within two weeks, Isbell had written "Decoration Day" and "Outfit," the songs that defined his tenure with the band. "I knew we’d struck gold," Hood says. "This chubby kid — he was 22 but looked like he was 15 — was going to be one of the great songwriters of our time."

      'It was an auspicious moment to join the band. The Truckers has just released their third record, a double album titled "Southern Rock Opera" (2001), which become a major statement and breakout success. Rolling Stone gave the album four stars. The online music service Rhapsody ranked the album No. 6 on its list of "Rock’s Best Albums of the Decade."

      Jason stayed with the DBT until 2007, when due to personal problems, including problems with alcohol, he was asked to leave. Jason quickly started his solo career, releasing his first album, Sirens of the Ditch, in 2007. Two more original albums and one live album followed, all well received critically, but the problems continued. Finally in 2012, Jason’s new girlfriend, Amanda Shires, an artist herself, and his friend, Ryan Adams, convinced him to enter rehab. It was a turning point for Jason. He and Amanda later married, and Southeastern is, in some ways, his "recovery" album. Its lead cut, Cover Me Up, tells part of the story, but mostly it is a love song for Amanda. You might well see most of the album that way.

      So girl leave your boots by the bed we ain't leavin' this room
      Till someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom
      It's cold in this house and I ain't going out to chop wood
      So cover me up and know you're enough to use me for good

      Jason’s songwriting has always drawn favorable critical attention. Spin writes, "Isbell is among the finest lyricists working today." http://www.spin.com/2013/06/jason-isbell-southeastern-thirty-tigers/. American Songwriter says of Southeastern in the article linked above that listeners are "treated to a truthful, moving journey and a master class in songwriting to boot." Pitchfork says; "Isbell is an invigorating songwriter and one of the better lyricists of his generation." http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/12683-jason-isbell-and-the-400-unit/. In its reveiw of Southeastern, the reviewer for the website savingcountrymusic.com
      referred to Jason as "one of those generation-defining musical talents" and stated of Southeastern:

      "If there is such a thing as a superstar in Americana music, then right now, Jason Isbell is it. What we very well may be witnessing is a songwriting legend in the making. He’s the songwriter that in the future songwriter-philes will hearken back to as proof of how the craft is lost. He’s the guy right now making sure that it isn’t. He is the Townes Van Zandt or Guy Clark of our time. So savor these moments, and feel blessed that you’re getting to live them in their original era, because they’re the ones future generations will look back on with fondness, and envy." savingcountrymusic.com/album-r…ason-isbells-southeastern

      The early reviews of Something More Than Free are enthusiastic,

      http://www.jasonisbell.com/press/, and the first released song, 24 Frames, available on Jason’s Soundcloud,at the link, is outstanding. https://soundcloud.com/southeastern-records Until the release of his upcoming album in July, Southeastern is the high water mark of Jason’s work. So, for now, some music from Southeastern:

      Six Songs from Southeastern

      Cover Me Up


      Traveling Alone


      Live Oak

      Super 8 (a throwback southern rocker with a touch of the Rolling Stones)

      Amanda Shires

      Amanda has had substantial success on her own, with several albums and her song, When You Need a Train It Never Comes, selected as the fifth best written song of 2011 by American Songwriter.


      Amanda was a fiddle prodigy. While she was a teen, she played fiddle for the Texas Playboys, the current incarnation of fiddler Bob Wills' classic Texas swing band. She has become part of Jason's band, and her playing complements and heightens many of the songs. With Jason, her style is frequently dramatic, but often angular and spare, mirroring the tone of the songs. She can rock with the band as well. If you looking for traditional country fiddle, you won't hear much of that from Amanda when playing with Jason and the 400 Unit.

      When You Need a Train It Never Comes


      Jason and Amanda

      Jason and Amanda are regular musical collaborators and often play as a duo. Last year, they toured as a duo to the UK and the continent. Two examples of their work together follow. The first is a cover of Warren Zevon's Mutineer, included on their Sea Songs EP, and performed recently on Letterman as part of his final series of shows. The cover of Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. was done for a collection honoring the 25th anniversary of Springsteen's album. Take a listen: you've probably never heard the song like this.


      Born in the U.S.A.

      The post was edited 59 times, last by ned ().

    • Discography

      All of the albums, EP's and DVD's listed below are, or will be, available on Amazon. Most are also available on iTunes by searching under Jason Isbell or Drive-By Truckers for the earlier albums with the band.

      Jason Isbell Artist Page at Amazon

      Drive-By Truckers

      Drive-By Truckers - Decoration Day (2003)

      Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South (2004)

      Drive-By Truckers - A Blessing and A Curse (2006)

      Jason Isbell/Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

      Jason Isell - Siren of the Ditch (2007)

      Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (2009)

      Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Here We Rest (2011)

      Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Live in Alabama (2012)

      Jason Isbell - Southeastern (2013)

      Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free (2015)


      Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Live at the Twist & Shout (2013)

      Jason Isbell and Elizabeth Cook - Tecumseh Valley/Pancho and Lefty (2013)

      Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires - Sea Songs (2015)


      Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Live at Austin City Limits (2014)

      Jason Isbell’s Lyrics

      The section collects excerpts of lyrics from songs from each of Jason’s albums. At the end, it reproduces almost complete lyrics from two of his story songs, Elephant and Decoration Day. If you are a fan of Jason, you probably have your own favorites.

      From Sirens in the Ditch

      Down in a Hole

      Standing in the window with his tongue hanging out
      Like the king of something evil in a year-long drought
      With a dirty white suit, a big white hat
      A bullet in his pocket, no matter where he's at
      He's trouble, but ain't we all?
      Trouble, but ain't we all?

      His daughter was a looker but five'll get you ten
      He dressed her like a hooker and she smelled like sin
      She had a rag top car, she made good grades
      She didn't like her daddy 'cause he wouldn't let her date
      She was trouble, but ain't we all?
      Trouble, but ain't we all?

      Don't work for him boy, it's like selling your soul
      He’ll turn his back and leave you way down in a hole.

      Dress Blues

      Your wife said this all would be funny
      When you got back home in a week
      Turn twenty two and we'd celebrate you
      In a bar or a tent by the creek

      Your baby would just about be here
      And your very last tour would be up
      But you won't be back, they're all dressin' in black
      Drinkin' sweet tea in Styrofoam cups

      Mamas and grand mamas love you
      American boys hate to lose
      You never planned on the bombs in the sand
      Or sleepin' in your dress blues

      From Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

      Cigarettes and Wine

      I saw her in Roosevelt Springs, where time doesn't touch anything
      She never did say she could sing, but I figured it so
      I needed some company then, not sisters or children or men
      That's a hell of a spot to be in, but she put me in tow

      Money and liquor and lust had taken my heart and my trust
      I could see ashes and dust were headed my way
      She tended bar in the town
      Her alto settled me down
      I started hanging around
      Didn't need much to say
      . . .
      Wings on her shoulders and feet, a bar on Gethsemane Street
      I took time to plan my retreat, and backed out the door
      I must be attracted to those who've witnessed a man in the throes
      Of life that ain't grindstone to nose, but pedal to floor

      She smelled like cigarettes and wine
      And she kept me happy all the time
      I know that ain't much of a line
      But it's the God’s own truth
      She lives down inside of me still
      Rolled up like a twenty dollar bill
      She left me alone with these pills
      In the last of my youth

      Soldiers Get Strange

      You know she's a real good girl
      She reminds you that every curl
      that whips in the wind of the world
      is watched by the eyes of God

      But lately your mane's gone white
      You itch in your veins in the night
      Before you "came home alright"
      you wielded the lightning rod

      It ain't the time that makes it go South
      It ain't the liquor that burns in your mouth
      Nearly nothing around here's changed
      It's just that a soldier gets strange


      Close your eyes and remember this. It won't be back again, it's almost gone.
      Even times that don't seem like much will be your only crutch when you're alone.
      Time moves slow when you're seventeen and then it picks up steam at twenty-one.
      Pretty soon you'll remember when you could remember when you loved someone.

      From Here We Rest

      Alabama Pines

      I moved into this room, if you could call it that, a week ago.
      I never do what I'm supposed to do.
      I hardly even know my name anymore.
      When no one calls it out, it kinda vanishes away.

      I can't get to sleep at night. The parking lot's so loud and bright.
      The A.C. hasn't worked in twenty years.
      Probably never made a single person cold,
      but I can't say the same for me. I've done it many times.

      Never Could Believe

      She came back home on a Trailways bus.
      Stole a pack of Camels for the both of us.
      She crawled right up to the front door of my house.
      Never could believe a word that comes from her mouth.

      Save It For Sunday

      A dog-eared page, a book I’ve read
      so many times it’s all there in my head.
      I watch every word reflect in her eyeglasses.
      I know when she’ll laugh and I know when she’ll cry.
      I know when she’ll cry.

      From Southeastern

      Cover Me Up

      I put your faith to the test/when I tore off your dress
      In Richmond on high.

      I sobered up/I swore off that stuff
      Forever this time

      And the old lovers sing,
      “I'd thought it'd be me
      Who helped him get home”

      But home was a dream/one I'd never seen
      Til you came along

      So girl hang your dress up to dry we ain't leavin' this room
      Til Percy Priest breaks open wide and the river runs through
      Carries this house on the stones like a piece of drift wood
      Cover me up and know you're enough to use me for good

      So girl leave your boots by the bed we ain't leavin' this room
      Til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom
      It's cold in this house and I ain't going out to chop wood
      So cover me up and know you're enough to use me for good

      Live Oak

      There's a man who walks beside me
      He is who I used to be
      And I wonder if she sees him
      and confuses him with me
      And I wonder who she's pinin' for
      on nights I'm not around
      Could it be the man who did the things
      I'm living down?

      Traveling Alone

      I quit talking to myself
      Listening to the radio
      Long, long time ago

      Damn near strangled by my appetite
      Ybor City on a Friday night
      Couldn't even stand up right

      So high the street girls wouldn't take my pay
      She said come see me on a better day
      She just danced away

      And I've grown tired of traveling alone
      Tired of traveling alone
      I've grown tired of traveling alone
      Won't you ride with me?


      She said Andy you're better than your past,
      winked at me and drained her glass,
      cross-legged on the barstool, like nobody sits anymore.

      She said Andy you're taking me home,
      but I knew she planned to sleep alone.
      I'd carry her to bed and sweep up the hair from the floor
      . . .

      She said Andy you crack me up,
      Seagrams in a coffee cup,
      sharecropper eyes and her hair almost all gone.

      When she was drunk she made cancer jokes,
      she made up her own doctor's notes.
      Surrounded by her family, I saw that she was dying alone.

      I'd sing her classic country songs
      and she'd get high and sing along.
      She don't have much voice to sing with now

      We'd burn these joints in effigy,
      cry about what we used to be,
      and try to ignore the elephant somehow.

      I buried her a thousand times,
      giving up my place in line,
      but I don't give a damn about that now

      There's one thing that's real clear to me,
      no one dies with dignity.
      We just try to ignore the elephant somehow.

      Drive-By Truckers, Decoration Day, from the album, Decoration Day

      This is one of Jason’s best known songs, his first song written for the DBT, and one he regularly performs in concert. Writers often talk about Jason’s songs that read like short stories. Elephant is an example. Decoration Day is the original. One writer described it as follows:

      “It is about a young man who is part of a blood-feud between two families which he didn't believe in, start or choose, but had no choice in the matter because of his last name. The song speaks to me about such themes as paying for our fathers' sins, family honor vs. personal values, the cost to sometimes to earn our fathers' approval, whether our destiny is predetermined by the environment we are born into, love, hate and other darker notions.”


      Even better, as the article shows, it is based on a true story, in which Jason’s great-uncle, Hollan Hill, is the shooter. It’s all the more interesting because Jason writes the story from the perspective of the victim’s son, a member of the Lawson family. Hollan Hill was in fact acquitted of the murder apparently because “nobody needs all of us Lawsons alive.”

      In case the term is unfamiliar, Decoration Day is the original name for Memorial Day, at first a day for decorating the graves of Civil War dead. The term is still used, at least in the rural south, for the annual day or remembrance at church and family cemetaries.


      It's Decoration Day.
      And I've a mind to roll a stone on his grave.
      But what would he say.
      Keeping me down, boy, won't keep me away.

      It's Decoration Day.
      And I knew the Hill Boys would put us away,
      But my Daddy wasn't afraid.
      He said we'll fight till the last Lawson's last living day

      I never knew how it all got started
      A problem with Hollan before we were born
      And I don't know the name of that boy we tied down
      And beat till he just couldn't walk anymore.

      But I know the caliber in daddy's chest
      And I know what Hollan Hill drives.
      The state let him go, but I guess it was best
      'Cause nobody needs all us Lawsons alive.

      Daddy said one of the boys had come by
      The lumber man's favorite son.
      He said, beat him real good but don't dare let him die
      And if you see Hollan Hill run.

      Now I said, they ain't give us trouble no more
      That we ain't brought down on ourselves
      But a chain on my back and my ear to the floor
      And I'll send all the Hill Boys to hell.

      It's Decoration Day
      And I've got family in Mobile Bay.
      They've never seen my daddy's grave,
      But that don't bother me, it ain't marked anyway.
      Cause I got dead brothers in Lauderdale south
      And I got dead brothers in east Tennessee.
      My Daddy got shot right in front of his house
      He had no one to fall on but me.

      It's Decoration Day
      And I've got a mind to go spit on his grave.
      If I was a Hill, I'd have put him away
      And I'd fight till the last Lawson's last living day.
      I'd fight till the last Lawson's last living day.
      I'd fight till the last Lawson's last living day.

      The post was edited 18 times, last by ned ().

    • Songs from the Decoration Day to Southeastern

      This selection of Jason's songs intends both to collect some of his better work (at least in my view) before Southeastern and to highlight his range of styles. The Drive-By Truckers were a hard-rocking band, with influences ranging from grunge and southern rock to alt country. In his solo career, Jason has covered a lot more territory. If he has a default mode, it's probably most like indie rock, though he frequently goes back to all the other styles noted below. His apprentice days in Muscle Shoals has given him an impressive range. The final group comprises songs from his DBT days that Jason still plays in concert.


      Jason has said that his new album will have an indie rock feel. Although the Americana awards have tended to pin him that label, indie rock is not a new direction.

      Streetlights from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

      Soldiers Get Strange from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

      Try from Sirens of the Ditch

      Soul and R&B

      Jason's time with the Muscle Shoals sessions men influences a number of his songs. The first clip below, Hurricanes and Hand Grenades, has some Ray Charles flavor. No Choice in the Matter evokes an Otis Redding session with the Stax horns (no live version available).

      Hurricanes and Hand Grenades from Sirens in the Ditch

      No Choice in the Matter from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

      Alt Country

      Jason's country-styled songs are never quite country in the way a country radio station would recognize. The melody and beat borrow from country but the subject matter, the attitude toward it and the music don't quite track, like the guitar in Cigarettes and just about everything else in the crowd favorite, Codeine.

      Cigarettes and Wine from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

      Codeine from Here We Rest


      Some of the songs are too hard to label. That's why we have Americana.

      Dress Blues from Sirens of the Ditch

      Alabama Pines from Here We Rest

      Songs from the Trucker Years

      (inspired by the passing of Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of The Band)

      (for Jason's father, a house painter)

      Goddamn Lonely Love

      Decoration Day

      The post was edited 3 times, last by ned ().

    • Village Voice published a nice review of Jason's concert in Port Chester last night: Easing Into the Summer of Jason Isbell One 'GOD DAMN!' at a Time,
      The title refers to an apparently very loud shout of approval from an audience member at a quiet moment.

      The Village Voice has been kind to Jason over the years and still is:

      'It's almost as though the decision to play venues outside of New York City limits — the Capitol in Port Chester and the Space at Waterbury in Long Island the night before — was strategic, in that it gave Isbell fans an excuse to think as the train or cab quietly cut through the stillness of the suburban night. The intricacies and intimacies of Isbell's songs meander through painful pasts, nerve-wracking plane rides and homeward-bound journeys. Mulling over those as the city drew nigh made for the perfect ending to a flawless performance from a man who turns flawed odysseys into Southern epics in four lines or less."

      It must never get old getting reviews like that.
    • Wim you have outdone yourself. I haven't been able to leave this thread for over an hour. It's not much of a secret that I'm generally not a fan of male voices but Jason is an exception. He is one of the few peeps on my "Desert Island" list. Why he is not a commercial smash makes less sense than why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway.

      What a brilliant artist.
    • Thanks! It's been a lot of fun to do and gave a great excuse to go back through the music and catch up on the articles and reviews. He may never have a hit record but he'll leave a mark bigger than most of the folks that do.

      The thing that always gets me about his lyrics is that they seem so plain spoken and still turn a phrase or pull off an image that startles and stays with you. He doesn't have the prettiest of voices but he has commitment you can't turn away from. I can think of a handful of other folks like that, but not many.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by ned ().

    • Review of Jason's concert in Albany last night. He is at the Del Fest in Cumberland, Maryland, today and in Boston tomorrow night.


      In anticipation of his concert in Cleveland on Tuesday, Cleveland Scene published the piece at the link. Cleveland Scene. The Trucker past follows Jason in some funny ways.

      "Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell was a member of the Drive-by Truckers when they played in Cleveland several years ago and guitarist Mike Cooley took out his frustrations on the Beachland Tavern stage. He maintains he was just an innocent bystander.

      “'That had nothing to do with me whatsoever,'” laughs Isbell, who left the band and embarked on a solo career six years ago. “'I just stood up there and played, man. [Mike] Cooley was pissed because [singer-guitarist] Patterson [Hood] had canceled the show the night before. Cooley had too much to drink. He started smashing his guitar and knocked a good hole in the stage from what I recall.'" You can imagine it wasn’t easy to venture out as a solo artist after being in a band with such larger-than-life personalities as the Truckers. But Isbell has done just fine on his own."

      The story is a good occasion for one of Cooley's more raucous and fun songs for the DTB--Gravity's Gone. In this acoustic version, Jason is on the left playing slide guitar and Patterson Hood is in the middle.

      And thanks, Spurrious, glad you enjoyed. :beer:

      Like the new emoji's. :thumbup:
    • Looking for a track I will post in a bit, I learned that Jason did Live from Lincoln Center last year. The program, as broadcast, appears at the link. (Couldn't figure out how to post the video directly)

      Jason Isbell: Live from Lincoln Center

      Excellent show. This concert has the only live version I've seen of Jason's cover of Candy Staton's Heart on a String, a cool R&B performance. The song appears on Jason and the 400 Unit's Here We Rest. Several other songs from the Lincoln Center are posted in separate clips on the PBS website.

      Videos from Jason Isbell: Live from Lincoln Center

      The Austin City Limits show is another outstanding live one. It's available on Amazon but I haven't seen a video link. It's worth the $10.00. :thumbup:

      The Lincoln Center video gives an abbreviated version of Jason's cover of the Rolling Stones' Can't You Hear Me Knocking, a barn-burner he has used in encores off and on for the last year or so. The whole Lincoln Center version of the CYHMK appears on a different PBS link and is included just below. I include a fan video from a concert last year in case there is any trouble with the flash version at the PBS website. At Lincoln Center, Jason brought up some of the Muscle Shoals horns--a real treat. In the Austin City Limits encore version, Jason and his guitarist, Sadler Vaden (formerly lead for Drivin' 'N' Cryin', the Atlanta-based southern rock outfit) have perhaps the best extended two-guitar lead break I've heard since, maybe, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor or Ron Wood. Btw, CYHMK is from Sticky Fingers, recorded by the Stones in Muscle Shoals. The fan video catches a version approaching the ACL cut, though the light is off and the focus a little tight; sound is good.

      Live from Lincoln Center--Jason Isbell, Can't You Hear Me Knockin' (Rolling Stones)

      Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Nelsonville Music Fest May 2014--Can't You Hear Me Knocking

      The Austin City Limits version is the best if you can find it--the extended guitar breakdown alone makes it worthwhile. 8) The following is from the ACL website on the ending of the concert there:

      "He ended the main set with the sardonic “Super 8,” a greasy rocker in the Stones/Faces mode. Isbell and the band encored with “Danko/Manuel,” another of the songwriter’s noteworthy DBT tracks, and a blazing, guitar-fueled take on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers gem “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” “Unreal ending,” noted John Raffaele on Facebook, “I am shivering.”

      The post was edited 15 times, last by ned ().

    • I got a kick out of hearing Super 8 back to back with Can't You Hear Me Knockin'. Made me realize again how close the Stones are to southern blues playing. They always told us that, but putting those two songs together let's you hear it nicely.

      Man, when Jason cuts loose on that gold-top Duesenberg, the sound is amazing!
    • Thinking about covers and closers, Jason covered and closed with Van Morrison's Into the Mystic on some occasions in his earlier solo days. The song appears on his EP, Live from the Twist & Shout. Good song - as he says later, just dont call it blue-eyed soul.

      Jason's song, The Blue, from his second solo album evokes Van Morrison to me. Do you hear it?