Friday, February 6, 2009
He Ain't Never Gonna Change
My fondness for Jason Isbell's music is great, but I must admit I might never have listened to him at all if not for a personal connection. In 1997, Jason attended the University of Memphis, majoring in English. Being a musician, he decided to play in the band to help with tuition. A trained trumpet player, Jason was placed in the mellophone section, under my leadership, and we became friends. I wasn't part of his fraternity, so I can't pretend that I was Jason's very best friend, but we had very similar tastes in music and often discussed what we were listening to. In 1998, we attended a Victor Wooten concert at Newby's and traded CDs on occasion. Jason eventually left school and I heard nothing more out of him; he moved back to Alabama.
In 2004, I happened to read a glowing review at Pitchfork about a new album from a band I'd never heard of, the Drive-By Truckers. Reading the review, I ran into the name Jason Isbell and was confused; surely this wasn't the Jason I knew. I quickly found out this was my former friend and gained interest in the band's music. Just a week later, I was moving into a new apartment and ran into and old friend, Jeremy German, one of Jason's Fiji brothers, who was in the horn section along with us. Jeremy asked me if I had heard about Jason and informed me that the Truckers were playing in Memphis that very night. Tired from moving and not having much disposable income, I passed on the concert, but vowed to see Jason again. I began diving into the Trucker's catalog and found I enjoyed their work. It turned out most of my favorite songs were written by Jason himself, a nice coincidence.
In 2007, Jason left the band hit the road as a solo artist. Signed to New West Records, he recorded Sirens of the Ditch and released it in July, 2007. As luck would have it, Jason's tour took him through Nashville on the same week I was in town, headed for Chicago on vacation. I attended his show at the Mercy Lounge, already well-versed in his work, but left blown away. The very normal, down to earth guy that I had been in marching band with was now a full-blown, American Rock Star. Jason's show was absolutely phenomenal and his backing band, the 400 unit, while relatively inexperienced, was quite capable. I happened to catch Jason after the show and he was excited to see me. I didn't spend much time with him, but it was great to see his fame hadn't changed him at all.
Since that time, I've caught Jason twice more and am headed to Birmingham, AL next week to see him at WorkPlay, just days before the release of his newest CD, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. He's scheduled to stop by Memphis in March, another show I'll be attending.
The past few weeks, several tracks from the new CD have become available online. From the sound of it, this album promises to be just as strong as his first. Look below for links to the first available tracks from the CD as well as a few select live tracks that I really dig.
Jason Isbell - Seven Mile Island
...courtesy of Spin, who gave the album four out of five stars.
Jason Isbell - Good
...courtesy of Stereogum, who posted his upcoming tour dates.
Jason Isbell - Soldiers Get Strange
...courtesy of Rollo & Grady, who posted a few related tracks.
Live @ Grimey's In Nashville 8.24.2007
Jason Isbell - Dress Blues (Acoustic)
Live @ The Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN, 8.24.2007
Jason Isbell - Chicago Promenade (Live)
Jason Isbell - Psycho Killer (Live)
Jason Isbell - Never Gonna Change (Live)
Jason Isbell - Danko/Manuel (Live)
Live @ The Cannery Ballroom Nashville, TN, 3.01.2008
Jason Isbell - Grown (Live)
Jason Isbell - Goddamn Lonely Love (Live)