January 23, 2008

Record Review: Jason Isbell

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Jason Isbell’s songs are straightforward and simple. He’s a country-rocker-cum-singer/songwriter whose lyrics paint clear images. But we all know that in order to be taken seriously, your metaphors need to be oblique and your emotions need to be obscured. Take Wilco: loved by critics, yet their lyrics make no sense: “I am an American aquarium drinker/ I assassin down the avenue.” Unfortunately, a clear alternative is equally as grim. Take, say, Tim McGraw: “I had a barbeque stain on my white t-shirt/ She was killing me in that mini-skirt” — Yikes!
In many ways, Isbell is more McGraw than Wilco, so most won’t take him seriously. That’s too bad. Although simple, Isbell’s lyrics are honest and heart wrenching. Sure, his influences are clear (“Hurricanes and Hand Grenades” equals Lyle Lovett and “Grown” equals Ryan Adams). But the chills that crawl up my spine from “Dress Blues” are those that only the uniquely gifted can deploy. And to which everyone can relate.