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Sunday, 30 December, 2007 12:03 PM

CMA New Artist Spotlight: Jason Isbell

PHOTO BY TRENT MCGINN AND HILARY WASH

New West recording artist Jason Isbell.

By Bob Doerschuk
© 2007 CMA Close Up News Service

There are already plenty of Jason Isbell fans who have come to appreciate his writing, singing and playing within a three-guitar attack during his run with Southern rock mainstay Drive-By Truckers. These listeners will hear something different in his solo debut on New West Records, Sirens of the Ditch: 11 original songs written by Isbell that add up to a more personal sound, with a wider range of emotion and a subtle sense of exhilaration that comes from striking out on your own.

This last quality is evident from the first seconds of the opening track and single, "Brand New Kind of Actress," with its no-nonsense drum beat and grungy guitar hook. His voice, rough and dusty as a Country road winding outside his hometown of Muscle Shoals, ties the diverse elements of the album together and brings each lyric to life, whether through reciting a mournful paean for young lives lost in "Dress Blues" or evoking classic R&B balladry on "Hurricanes and Hand Grenades."

Raised in a musical family in one of America's most musical towns, Isbell grew up in a community that was used to seeing Duane Allman, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and other giants pull up to FAME Studios, also where Isbell recorded his album, to lay tracks with David Hood and Spooner Oldham, local guys who happened to be members of one of the hottest studio rhythm sections on Earth. They're among the artists who appear on Sirens of the Ditch too - a gesture that says as much about the endurance of soulful music in northern Alabama as it does about Isbell's right to a place within that tradition.

IN HIS OWN WORDS

Who is your musical hero?
"Neil Young. He always seems to do exactly what he wants."

What book is on your nightstand?
"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, by Crystal Devon (Warren Zevon bio)."

What song do you wish you had written?
"'Room at the Top,' by Tom Petty. I'm glad I didn't have to go through what he was dealing with when he wrote it, though. That's usually the case with my favorites."

What phrase do you find yourself saying over and over again?
"Stop apologizing."

What mode of transportation do you prefer?
"Prevost XLIIs with a Ducati in the trailer."

On the Web: www.jasonisbell.com.

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