Barr Weissman’s 2011 documentary “The Secret to a Happy Ending” explores the Drive-By Truckers at a tumultuous time when their existence was somewhat reminiscent of the characters and human qualities about which they write.
Jason Isbell struck out on his own several years ago. A move that garnered Isbell the Song of the Year award at the 2012 Americana Honors and Awards for “Alabama Pines.” (Photo courtesy of Erika Goldring)
It could very easily sound better in a song, but times were uncertain for the DBTs in 2007 with member Jason Isbell’s marriage to bassist Shonna Tucker in dismay and ultimately leading to his separation from the group.
With this disturbance in the force, it left many of the DBT faithful wondering what was the next step.
Isbell was out of the band.
An integral part of the driving force along with Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, he contributed to many songs such as “Decoration Day,” “Danko/Manuel” and “Outfit” among many others and was part of a three-man guitar attack that helped define their sound.
What may have been a bittersweet departure at the time has left the DBTs in different formations over the years and it left Isbell with his first solo album, Sirens of the Ditch.
Going into this year, Isbell now has three studio albums to his credit along with a new live album, “Live From Alabama,” set for release next week on Lightning Rod Records and Thirty Tigers.
This is the first full-length live album and with it comes a great track selection with plenty of momentum going into the recording, which took place across a couple of sold-out shows at Crossroads in Huntsville, Ala., and Workplay Theater in Birmingham, Ala., this past August.
“We had a lot of material with three albums along with the Truckers days, and it was just a matter of what we played best that made the album,” Isbell said during a studio session in Georgia.
“I think the band is in a real good place and it was nice to document this period in time. It was great. I saw a lot of family and a lot of friends came out. It was a good experience,” Isbell said about playing the shows in his home state.
Making the cut are classic DBT tracks along with other work from his solo albums and a cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.”
“We do Candi Staton’s ‘Heart on a String.’ Every once in a while we’ll pull out something different. We just try to have a good time,” he said about mixing it up during the live show.
Since last year’s release of “Here We Rest,” Isbell has found much praise on all levels including NPR, Esquire, GQ and Spin and also took home Song of the Year honors at this year’s Americana Honors and Awards ceremony in Nashville for “Alabama Pines.”
“It’s good. I don’t put a whole lot in the awards shows, but this one was a good collection of people. I saw some of my old friends and had a good time,” Isbell said.
The Americana brand is one that has grown tremendously over the years not only in this region, but nationwide as well. For Isbell, he doesn’t really care to be grouped in a category, but if it is a must, then he’d choose this one over the rest.
“I don’t really use that to describe my music to anybody, because I don’t think the genre thing is necessary,” Isbell added.
With all the recent attention on his latest album, Isbell admits the recording process and expectations leading up to it weren’t any different than his previous efforts.
“It’s always the same purpose, and we take the same approach,” Isbell noted.
“It wasn’t a different process, but I feel I’m writing better songs. This was our first record with Chad, our drummer.”
Growing up in Alabama, Isbell was close to the movement that was taking place in Muscle Shoals, although given the timeframe; he didn’t discover some of the music that was being made there until his teenage years.
“I didn’t realize what was happening there until I was older,” Isbell said.
“I listened to artists like James McMurtry, John Hiatt and John Prine and pop radio from the ’80s,” he noted about his influences.
Although one may not find your typical music scene in North Alabama, Isbell and other artists like Alabama Shakes and the Civil Wars have helped the area with somewhat of a music resurgence in recent years.
“The Civil Wars did well and the Shakes are from Athens. There’s a lot of good music coming out of that area and a lot of song writers,” he said.
When Isbell isn’t making his own music of late, he’s also helping on production work with groups like American Aquarium among others.
“I like it if it’s the right band, It’s not my particular job of choice, but I had a good time with American Aquarium. They are hard workers, “ Isbell said about his latest production efforts.
With the new release, Isbell has planned a small tour in support that has two dates in Nashville at Grimey’s on Nov. 20 and Mercy Lounge on Dec. 21.
This may be fans last chance to see Isbell for a while because he will head back into the studio in preparation for a new album to be released in 2013.
For more information on Isbell, visit www.jasonisbell.com.