Jason Isbell has been recording solo albums for ten years, amid a stormy personal life that he often revealed in his songs. His latest release, The Nashville Sound, also credits The 400 Unit. And it solidifies his claim to be a major artist.
The Alabama native, who currently lives in Nashville, played the Grand Ole Opry at only 16. He recorded at the famed Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama when he was 21. From 2001 through 2006, he was a member of The Drive-By Truckers, one of the most influential bands on the American roots music scene today. Like Uncle Tupelo in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, The Drive-By Truckers has spawned major off-shoot projects. Along with Isbell, Patterson Hood was also once a member of the group, which is still going strong despite many changes of line-up.
Isbell’s solo career took a circuitous course. His debut solo album, Seasons of the Ditch, released in 2007, came out on New West Records, the home of the Drive-By Truckers. His next two albums (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; Here We Rest) reestablished his career. They were released on Lightning Rod Records. Those albums had a loose, live-band sound, but they also gave a glimpse at Isbell’s dark demons through his gripping songs.
The turning point for Isbell seems to have been his decision to enter rehab, after years of alcohol and drug abuse. Once he was clean and sober, he married again and fathered a child. Isbell released Southeastern in 2013, which featured his second wife, Amanda Shires, and Kim Richey on vocals. The Nashville Sound is the third Isbell has recorded since getting sober.
With Isbell’s lost years behind him and his having settled into marriage and fatherhood, his music now has an attention to detail and a depth and a confidence at which he only hinted in the past. He is now a songwriter in the major leagues. His lyrics are still extremely personal, but they’re less confessional. Instead they revel in life and look for larger, more universal truths.