Jason Isbell is set to play The Orange Peel in Asheville on Thursday. The former Drive-By Trucker is winning rave reviews for his solo work, with much being made about Isbell ditching his hard-partying ways for stone-cold sobriety. From the New York Times magazine last May:
In the old days, this kind of stress would have sent Isbell, who is 34, into a tailspin. He found fame early and wasn’t ready for it. When he was 22, he joined the Drive-By Truckers, the brilliant and hard-living Alabama band. He quickly wrote several of the group’s signature songs, including the title cut of its 2003 album, “Decoration Day,” and a beautiful bummer of a tune called “Goddamn Lonely Love.” He almost as quickly burned out.
His first marriage, to Shonna Tucker, the band’s bassist at the time, came unstitched in public. There were some ugly scenes. Isbell’s fondness for Jack Daniel’s did not become him. “Some people get drunk and become kind of sweet,” Patterson Hood, one of the Drive-By Truckers’ principal singer-songwriters, told me. “Jason wasn’t one of those people.” Isbell left the band in 2007.
What followed was an unhappy period of wandering. He made a few mediocre solo records. He became bloated from drinking. Everyone who followed his work with the Truckers knew he was one of America’s thoroughbred songwriters, with a knack for rueful melodies and the kind of grainy blue-collar detail that pins a song in your mind, like the character in “Outfit” who winds up back in “tech school/just to memorize Frigidaire parts.” But he’d lost his way.
His resurrection began when his single, “Alabama Pines,” won Song of the Year at the 2012 Americana Awards, which honor the kind of rebellious and pared-down roots music that used to be called alternative country. “Alabama Pines” is pure Isbell: elegiac and self-lacerating. “I can’t get to sleep at night, the parking lot’s so loud and bright,” the song’s narrator intones from a motel room. “The a/c hasn’t worked in 20 years/Probably never made a single person cold/but I can’t say the same for me, I’ve done it many times.”
From the Isbell press machine:
Critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Isbell will play at The Orange Peel with his band The 400 Unit on Thursday, January 23 in support of his album Southeastern, American Songwriter’s #1 Album of 2013. Watch Isbell’s stunning solo acoustic performance of “Live Oak” on CBS This Morning Second Cup Cafe, the group’s performance of “Flying Over Water” on Conan and “Stockholm” on The Late Show with David Letterman. 2013 has been an incredible year for Isbell, he was the subject of an NPR Fresh Air story (click here to listen), featured in The New York Times Magazine, Wall Street Journal, NPR’s All Things Considered, Billboard, Huffington Post, Garden & Gun, Popmatters and the graced the covers of American Songwriter and Paste. Thus far, Southeastern has garnered raving reviews from a wide range of outlets, includingPitchfork, SPIN, USA Today, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Uncut, American Songwriter, Entertainment Weekly, A.V. Club and many more.
The rare feat of actually writing better songs when he sobered up. His latest album is really great.