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Buyers of this set should not expect a proxy DBT record. Whilst on the one hand it demonstrates that a record by one (former) third of Drive By Truckers' writing trio doesn't amount to a DBT album written by one hand, on the other it does show, to his credit, that there is more to Jason Isbell than DBT.
In my opinion none of the tracks on this collection reaches the heights achieved by the best of Isbell's DBT songs such as Decoration Day, Goddamn Lonely Love or Easy On Yourself. Nevertheless, in its own way this is an excellent piece of work, with catchy tunes and an eclectic set of styles from the Stones to Stax via Country and Heavy Blues/Rock.
There are some nice appearances from a variety of mates, including Shonna, Patterson and Brad (what, no Cooley?) from DBT, ex-MGs keyboardist Spooner Oldham, and David Hood, Patterson's old man, I believe.
Some impressions of a few of the tracks.
Brand New Kind Of Actress opens the set with a sound reminiscent of the Stones and some catchy lyrics. Next, Down In A Hole is given a soulful backing by Oldham's B3.
Try is a blues reminiscent of Robert Johnson's approach to song construction, or maybe Lucinda Williams. Interestingly I notice that, while I would put them on the same shelf, my Windows Media Player shows Isbell's Sirens as Rock and Williams's West as Folk. Not sure how that works. A&R moves in mysterious ways, I guess.
The poignant lyrics on Dress Blues will move you whether or not you backed the Iraq intervention. It should, anyway. This is one of the stand-outs for me. It's Country, not Rock, with some affective pedal steel, and it's about the premature death of a young marine - "You never planned on the bombs in the sand, or sleeping in your dress blues" - and his funeral.
Grown, whose lyrics provide the CD title, reminds me of Steve Miller, I think possibly because of the repeated "wha-o-oo" at the beginning of the chorus, but also Isbell's voice and the rhythm.
Hurricanes And Hand Grenades features some great lyrics. It's a blues/soul composition with some nice guitar and gospel organ in the background courtesy of Tommy Patterson. A bit of a barroom piece. Kind of "set `em up Joe" feel about it; an echo of Goddamn Lonely Love. I get the feeling that a few years ago Rod Stewart could have covered it well. Nowadays let's keep it away from him!
In A Razor Town is a thoughtful country ballad with some great slide and dobro, Shonna Tucker's backing vocals are just right, and together with the closer, The Devil Is My Running Mate, this is one of the other two standouts. This last song on the CD is delivered, courtesy of multitracking, by Isbell on his own playing all the instruments and singing. It's slow, with some forceful acoustic guitar to the fore.
In the final analysis, a worthwhile addition to the collection. Nothing bad, and some songs I reckon will prove to be built to last. Disappointing though that nobody saw fit to include lyrics in the packaging. They'd be worth having in print.
The more I hear this album the more I like it. The only drawback is it sounds on many songs like he's wearing his influences on his sleeve. I could hear Tom Petty singing "Shotgun Wedding" and "Magician" (still like the songs though!). Isbell is a killer guitarist and gifted lyricist. The best are the songs that are uniquely Jason Isbell, like the classics "Dress Blues" and "Razor Town". The man has a gift for sad songs and his soulful voice only makes the lyrics more effective. Rockers like "Try" hit home with it's "against the grain" guitar riffs and no nonsense lyrics. A good album for sure, but if you want to hear the real Jason Isbell, check out his latest cd "Southeastern". More acoustic and sparse, Jason found his voice on this cd and delivered his best cd yet. My recommendation: buy both!!!
Saw him open for Sunvolt and give a much better performance, frankly. "Dress Blues" had me choked up in public and I bought the album on the strength of that song. I only find a couple other songs as good, but there are no real stinkers, either. Like a lot of bands I used to listen to back in the day, they've had a hard time getting their great live band energy to come through in a studio recording. That said, the band's musicianship and Isbell's singing are well represented. I'm looking forward to the next album and Isbell's next crack at songwriting, which I think shows flashes of brilliance here.
Heck, I've just talked myself into revising it to 4 stars instead of 3. Definitely see them live, but until then, even with a couple forgettable songs on it, "Dress Blues" and "Try" are worth the price of this album.
This isn't as outstanding as Isbell's later work, but is still a strong set of songs. I don't like the production, arrangements or instrumentation as well as his more recent records either. For example, "Dress Blues" is a great song, but the arrangement on here doesn't do it justice. Finally, his voice has gotten better since. More depth and better phrasing. Stylistically, it runs the gamut from rockers to strummers to Lyle Lovett-type bluesy numbers. He still covers a lot of the songs from this record in his shows. If you're as much of an Isbell fanatic as I am, it's probably worth it; otherwise, not. Wow! Reading this back, it sounds like I don't think this record is good. What am I saying? It's still way better than probably 95% percent of the stuff out there. So, to re-state, worth adding to your collection if you're a completist. Or, if you've never heard Isbell, this is as good a place to start as any of his other earlier solo outings. Then, you'll appreciate his much superior recent stuff even more!