album reviews

Jason Isbell
Sirens of the Ditch
New West (2007)

As one of the Drive-By Truckers' three primary songwriters, Jason Isbell may have seemed to be just one of that band's large cast of characters, but his solo debut, "Sirens of the Ditch," shows that his conversational songs and husky voice can stand just as effectively on their own. With "Sirens," he hasn't completely abandoned his past; Truckers members Shonna Tucker and Brad Morgan join him on bass and drums, respectively, and the band's founder, Patterson Hood, acts as co-producer.

Even with such a heavy Truckers presence, Isbell has toned town the Truckers' Southern twang in favor of a more bluesy pop sound; the booming chords of album opener "Brand New Kind of Actress" are reminiscent of Cheap Trick's power pop, while "Shotgun Wedding" shimmers with its bright chords and bouncy melodies.

Those catchy pop songs might be "Sirens's" most instantly grabbing numbers, but Isbell is equally captivating in his quieter moments: The rolling, trancelike "The Magician" captures a serene road weariness, and "The Devil Is My Running Mate" recalls Josh Ritter's more melancholy songs. Isbell is at his most pensive on "Dress Blues," inspired by a classmate who joined the Marines and died in Iraq. Songs about the war seem to be sprouting faster than weeds, but Isbell's personal slant on the situation gives a powerful, sympathetic edge to an otherwise familiar theme.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 13 July 2007, Page WE06
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