(New West Records)
Recorded several years ago at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Sirens of the Ditch represents ex- Drive By Truckers Jason Isbell’s first solo CD. Mixed by Athens, Georgia, sound wizard David Barbe at Chase Park Transduction Studio, this 11 song collection proves Isbell ranks as an epitomizing southern songwriter. This CD sounds more polished and pop-ish than any Drive By Truckers recording, but that’s not a negative comparison.
The Stones-Truckers rocker, “Brand New Kind of Actress”, opens the CD. “Down In A Hole” ranks as one of the CDs best songs with a lazy riff and great lyrics: “Standing in the window with his tongue hanging out/Like the king of something evil in a yearlong drought/With a dirty white suit, a big white hat/A bullet in his pocket no matter where he’s at/He’s trouble, but ain’t we all.”
"Try”, another rocker, tells the tale of a deteriorating relationship between a man and a woman. Isbell’s songwriting construction propels him into good company. For Isbell’s future, the sky’s the limit.
Isbell falls into the Muscle Shoals tradition. A native son who studied and apprenticed under legends like David Hood and Spooner Oldham who both appear on Sirens of the Ditch. Isbell learned his chops from the best.
“Chicago Promenade”, a sad pop-driven tune, proves Isbell’s intention of breaking stereotypes by employing different styles. “Dress Blues”, a classic family-oriented narrative is where Isbell carves out his musical identity in such a composition. No matter how hard he tries, Isbell remains a guy from North Alabama—he can’t help but be a southern storyteller no matter how far he is from home. No wonder his popularity goes beyond the south.
Isbell hits an alt-country, pop approach, but his lyrics remain rhythmic on a catchy melodic hook on “Grown”. “Hurricane and Hand Grenades” captures the classic Muscle Shoals sound. A soulful piano drives this song—one wonders how great it would sound if Aretha Franklin sang it, but this is a true Isbell classic anyway.
“In A Razor Town” and “Shotgun Wedding” contain a country feel. Isbell’s use of words never undermines the music. “The Magician" proves Isbell’s hand is quicker than the eye. It sounds like an acoustic arcade soundtrack to the life of a riverboat ‘confidence man’.
The final cut, “The Devil Is My Running Mate”, serves as a last fair deal in these modern times told from the perspective of someone who had the opportunity to sell his soul. Sirens of The Ditch indicates Isbell’s spirit will never allow him to sell out…