Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch (Limited Edition, Colored Vinyl, Deluxe Edition)
Weekly Review: In the decade and a half since he left the Drive-By Truckers, singer/songwriter Jason Isbell has developed considerable and reverential following. A new reissue of Isbell’s 2007 solo debut Sirens of the Ditch shows an ambitious talent that started strong and found room to grow over time.
Given the chance to make a statement all his own, Isbell makes the most of it. On “Dress Blues,” the album’s best song, Isbell tries to make sense of an Iraq War casualty from Isbell’s hometown. Small details like scripture on grocery store signs and sweet tea in Styrofoam cups make the poignant story land even harder, because it’s easy to picture yourself in those situations.
Sirens of the Ditches is loaded with these tiny moments. On lead single and opening cut “Brand New Kind of Actress,” Isbell imagines Lana Clarkson trying to make an escape from Phil Spector’s mansion, pleading “Just put the piece away and let me call a cab.” From dancing to “Purple Rain” on “Grown” to the wealthy small-town proprietor with “a bullet in his pocket no matter where he’s at” in “Down in a Hole,” Isbell turns each song into something between a short story and a one-act play.
Sonically, Sirens of the Ditch isn’t that far from the Truckers’ literate Southern rock, but Isbell injects a healthy dose of blues and soul into the mix. Recorded at Fame studios in Alabama – the place where Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers and the Rolling Stones recorded back in the ‘60s and ‘70s – Isbell gets help not only from his former bandmate Patterson Hood, but Hood’s father David Hood. The elder Hood played bass on many of Fame’s biggest sessions. Spooner Oldham, another Fame session mainstay, contributes Hammond organ. -Joel Francis