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Jason Isbell

Sirens of the Ditch reissue – 2018 (New West)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Jason Isbell

One of the four new tracks on this rerelease of Jason Isbell's "Sirens of the Ditch" is "The Assassin," and it features the same country/alternative rock hybrid sonic that characterizes Drive-By Truckers songs. Such an association is to be expected, though, as the album was Isbell's first solo release after leaving DBT. Furthermore, Patterson Hood and Shonna Tucker - each of DBT - played on the album. Much like George Harrison, just after leaving The Beatles, Isbell clearly had a lot of great songs in him that he couldn't wait to unleash.

You could call Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley the Lennon/McCartney of Drive-By Truckers, which ultimately necessitated Isbell leaving the band. There just wasn't room for three great songwriters in this one band. Like Harrison, Isbell is an amazingly good lyricist. His solo catalogue stands up to the best DBT work. Some would argue it's even better.

Originally released in 2007, and now reissued with bonus songs, this collection shows why Isbell was destined to be an Americana music darling. Although Isbell didn't fully hit his artistic stride until 2013's "Southeastern," "Sirens of the Ditch" is nevertheless an extremely powerful first step. The bluesy, heartbreaking "Try," which spotlights Isbell's superior electric guitar skills, also reveals this songwriter's rare ability (as a man) to get inside the thoughts and feelings of women. "Shotgun Wedding" finds Isbell longing for a woman he - probably - can't have, and it's not clear if he's a man with good intentions or "just a freak." "Dress Blue," which Zac Brown was wise to cover, offers a uniquely personal perspective on the horrible consequences of war.

Isbell, like Drive-By Truckers, has always been as much a rock & roller, as country artist. He might like to stretch out on the electric guitar, but "The Magician," with its acoustic picking and banjo, is perfectly good country music. What he may lack in country instrumental consistency, he more than makes up for with high quality songs.

Although it's not advisable for Isbell newbies to start with "Sirens of the Ditch," it's an album that introduces a talented artist that would only get better.