Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch

Tomorrow, Jason Isbell‘s DBT side project-turned-band sees their debut cd, Sirens of the Ditch, finally hit the shelves. It seems like I have been reading and talking about this cd for ages. Hell, I even named it as one of my most anticipated releases back in December. So I can only imagine what it has felt like for Mr. Isbell. Along the way, as we all know, Jason and the Trucker’s went their separate ways and Sirens finally got a firm release date. So, what does the solo Jason sound like?

First, this ain’t a Truckers album with Jason singing all the songs but it isn’t like the guy put on a brand new suit either. For the people hoping to hear “Decoration Day” and “Never Gonna Change” over and over, this cd is gonna take a couple of spins before you start to dig it…but you will. My first time through the cd, “Try” and “Devil is My Running Mate” jumped out, but outside of that I was a little let down. I went into the cd blind and expected the “Truckers album with Jason singing all the songs” cd. It was in the subsequent listens, as my original expectations gave way and I accepted the songs, that I began to really hear them. There is a varied sense of maturity to this cd and dare I say, it sounds like the kind of cd DBT was trying to make when they stumbled on A Blessing and a Curse.

My personal favorite track on the cd has got to be “Hurricanes and Hand Grenades”. First time I heard it, I could not hit the skip button fast enough. I dunno, maybe I was in a shit mood or maybe it was just too far away from what I was expecting to accept it at the time. It really reminds me of a 70’s-era contemplative “my baby left me” country song. It’s a beautiful song. Other standouts include the driving guitars rock song sound you expect of “Try”, the acoustic guitar and banjo interplay of “The Magician”, and the piano driven song for his departed grandfather, “Chicago Promenade”. Also included on the cd is “Dress Blues”. Hardcore Truckers fans are quite familiar with this song already, but for the uninitiated, it is a song about a friend of Jason’s who did not make it back from the war. A powerful song on the youtube and DBT live boots, it acquires an 8 pound sledge in its studio version. The cd closes with “Devil is my Running Mate”, an acoustic anti-war ballad that lacks all the anti-war song cheese everyone is starting to bore of, and has all of the craft we have come to expect and love from Jason’s songs.

All in all, this wasn’t what I expected at first, but as the cd played I found it to be exactly what I was expecting. Jason isn’t a member of the Truckers anymore and that means we have to listen to him with new ears. When you do, what you will hear is a diverse collection of songs with the songwriting talent you’ve come to expect from Jason, coupled with the freedom to do whatever he feels like.

Jason Isbell – Chicago Promenade
Jason Isbell – Try
Jason Isbell – Hurricanes and Hand Grenades

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Official Site, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit on myspace, Buy Sirens of the Ditch

Note to Tampa/St. Pete readers: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit are playing Crowbar with the super awesome Centro-matic on August 18. You would have known this if you actually checked the ninebullets.net calendar with any regularity. There is no reason not to go…it’s on the weekend and I’ve already told you it’ll be awesome. See you there. Buy me a drink.

Useless trivia moment: The 400 unit refers to the 4th floor (rooms starting at 400) at Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital of Alabama. It’s the crazy ward.

4 thoughts on “Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch”

  1. I just picked up Sirens of the Ditch yesterday, and although I haven’t had the chance yet to really listen as closely as Isbell’s lyrics, in particular, require, my early reaction is that the album is excellent. In general, Isbell’s songs were many of my favorites from the Truckers, especially from his first two albums with the band.

  2. With that being the case, I got immediately excited way back when I heard about the solo project. Over time, realizing how he differed creatively from DBT’s other driving forces, I began to understand that I should start expecting something different from what I’d come to know of “his” songs within the band setup. The sneak previews of Sirens cuts on his MySpace page only affirmed that. I have to admit that I wasn’t big on “Try” at first listen, and even with “Dress Blues,” I wondered if the added production chipped away at the bare honesty and feeling of the song. I do still think the finest and most gripping version of that song was the first one I heard, where Isbell played acoustic guitar and sang in studio during a Minnesota Public Radio broadcast (which included the worst interviewer I’ve ever heard).

  3. Although I was still always looking forward to the release of this album, I began to prepare myself for the possibility that I might not love it, might think it only OK. Then, I went back to his page, listened to “Grown,” loved it, gave “Try” another try, enjoyed it enough and amped up my excitement for the album. Now that I have it and am on my second (albeit somewhat distracted) trip through, I’m sure I will always be an Isbell fan. Sirens is a fantastic listen, and I know it’ll only get better as I continue to familiarize myself with it.

    (Sorry for the three comments, but I wanted the chance to say all that.)

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