Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sirens of the Ditch

Jason Isbell's Sirens of the Ditch

TUESDAY, JULY 3, 2007 AT 4 A.M.

B-movie Beatitudes

The Drive-By Truckers' Jason Isbell has now gone solo, but he hadn't yet left 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 expertly undersold character-actor flair. "I'm a brand-new kind of actress/I'm the same old stubborn waitress," a big-bottomed gal happily sees and raises 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 fear break on through, or become just another paranoid ritual? Note by note, John Neff's steel guitar cuts as gently and deeply as Isbell's lyrics, into the "Dress Blues" of a wartime funeral, still in progress. "Grown" flees such ceremonial pressures for 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.")(Tasso's 16th Century verse refers to frogs or tadpoles thusly, but they gotta be just the musical doormen for our intrepid seeker.)"In a Razor Town" is as spare and complex as a real-life breakup; 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,


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