The Drive-By Truckers’ Jason Isbell has now gone solo, but he hadn’t yet quit the band while recording Sirens of the Ditch—cut with most of the current Truckers and their regular guests, the record smoothly lures and detours familiar, ’70s-based rock-blues-country sounds and expectations while highlighting Isbell’s character-actor flair. “I’m a brand-new kind of actress/I’m the same old stubborn waitress,” a big-bottomed gal happily agrees with a yearning heckler (who’s got a gun, it turns out) on the opening tune—however far she gets, she knows she’s got the kind of balancing act (plus the audacity-times-tenacity) that an actress-slash-waitress needs. As for the hero of “Try,” will the blues-metal beating at the walls of his paranoia break on through, or become just another paranoid ritual? John Neff’s steel guitar cuts as gently and deeply as Isbell’s lyrics, each note cutting deeper into the “Dress Blues” of a wartime funeral. “Grown” flees such proprieties for (non-cheesy) memories of a playmate who “took my little hand . . . you taught me how to want something.” (Another soul saved, though more recently, the narrator “heard the sirens’ song/And I followed it in the ditch.”) “In a Razor Town” is as spare and complex as a real-life breakup can be; on the other hand, “The Devil Is My Running Mate” puts mean, scared, human words into the mouth of a politician, so you know it’s a fairy tale.
Jason Isbell plays the Mercury Lounge July 19, mercuryloungenyc.com
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 3, 2007