Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive-By Truckers, is playing in Dublin on Sunday with his new wife Amanda Shires.
From Green Hill, Alabama — near Muscle Shoals — singer, songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell plays in Dublin next Sunday. Probably best known as a member of Drive-By Truckers, the band he left in 2007, the 34-year-old has released four solo records. His most recent, Southeastern, has earned him a glut of positive reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. The 12-song opus was written following a spell in rehab, prompting the remark, “This time I want to remember it all”. In addition to Isbell’s life-changing sobriety, last February he married Lubbock Texas native and singer/songwriter, Amanda Shires.
“The change in my lifestyle has helped me a lot in pretty much every aspect of my life,” he admits. “But when it comes to writing it’s given me a whole lot more time and focus. Some people say that you’re not as creative when you sober up but I think that’s an excuse not to sober up, honestly. It’s more of an excuse that anything else. For me, if I keep working, I find that that’s the thing that helps me the most — the actual process of sitting down and doing the work. Having another seven or eight hours in the day when I’m not busy, either getting drunk or recovering, has helped a lot.”
Southeastern is somewhat of a departure from previous recordings by Isbell, in that it’s a more introspective album that previous offerings. Even though the David Cobb-produced disc features some of his regular backing band, the 400 Unit, it’s certainly more of a solo and acoustic work than its predecessors. According to Isbell, “it’ll be just the two of us, Amanda and I, on this tour. She’ll play a set first and then I’ll play a set. We’ll play with each other some, throughout the night, too”.
But that’s not to suggest that Jason and the 400 Unit have parted company. “It’s nice when touring to have a mixture of both a band and solo,” he says. “For solo performances it depends on the nature of the audience. But yeah, right now I’m very happy with the way things are going. But I don’t want to get too satisfied by it, because it’s good to challenge yourself.”
Muscle Shoals is renowned as the home of countless hit songs of various musical styles, from the 1960s to the present day — does the music of his area influence Isbell? “I think my music is song-driven. First and foremost, if people like songs and story songs, they’ll probably like what I’m doing. Yes, I’m informed by the place where I grew up. But that’s going to happen whether I mean it to happen or not. I grew up listening to those records that were made there and I’ve spent a lot of time with some of the people that actually made those records, like the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section and Spooner Oldham,” he says. “It’s not a big part of what I do. I don’t try to replicate it but it certainly finds its way into my material, whether that’s on purpose or not.”
Finally, after many a bump on life’s great highway, recognition of Isbell’s unique talent is on the up. He now fits into a world of sobriety, a new marriage, and a critically acclaimed album — not a bad place for a man of his obvious flair and ability to recommence his journey from.
*Jason Isbell plays the Workman’s Club, Dublin, on Sunday.
— Gerry Quinn
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