Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jason Isbell's Southeastern Gem

We've all heard the tragic tales of the singer/songwriter/musicians who finds their muses in alcohol or other mind-altering substances. The all-star list of the tragically lost includes Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Harry Nilsson, and Amy Winehouse. Too rarely do we learn of an artist who has the personal courage to overcome addictions and grow as an artist. So, I joyfully celebrate in this post someone who has  faced and conquered his addiction to create some his best and most deeply honest work.

As I wrote in a previous Audio-didact post  I have been a fan of the music of the Drive-By Truckers for many years. What I did not share at that time was the concern I felt about the conspicuous amount of drinking that the band engaged in onstage, seemingly as part of their show, when I saw them perform in 2004.  Early in the evening, I thought it was kind of cool that the band members were symbolically sharing a bottle of liquor.  Before long I hoped the bottle of Jack Daniels that was still being passed around was just a prop.  Several hours later, as my co-blogger and friend Fletcher McNeill and I left the show,  the band was still "performing," but doing so poorly, and the band members seemed to be, for wont of better term, not themselves.

It was through the DBT's music, that I became introduced to Jason Isbell's playing, singing, and songwriting. In Reviewing Southeastern, Isbell's new solo album, Paste's Jerrick Adams rightly points out that while not many of Isbell's songs made it onto DBT albums during the six years he played with them, those that did are great songs. Adams point out that among the eight that made it onto DBT albums during that time are "'Outfit,' 'Decoration Day' and 'Goddamn Lonely Love' ... so good that they rank toward the top of not just Isbell’s discography, but DBT’s as well."

Jason Isbell was born in Greenhill, in northern Alabama near Muscle Shoals, in 1979. Outside of his immediate family, most of his family members were musicians. Isbell became interested in becoming a musician at a young age. He was married to the DBT bassist Shonna Tucker during most of the time he played with DBT. The two are now divorced. In February 2013, Isbell married songwriter Amanda Shires, who helped him get sober

Throughout Southeastern, Isbell deals with drinking, loss, pain, and love.  His writing has not lost any of its edge.  If anything, the edge with which he writes is even sharper.  Consider, for example, this segment of lyrics to "Elephant":

She said Andy you're better than your past,
winked at me and drained her glass,
cross-legged on the barstool, like nobody sits anymore.

She said Andy you're taking me home,
but I knew she planned to sleep alone.
I'd carry her to bed and sweep up the hair from her floor

Southeastern is an incredibly personal and powerful album.  I find myself thinking a great deal about its stories.

Here is a video of Isbell performing Southeastern's "Stockholm" on the Letterman Show from July 23, 2013:

Isbell was also recently featured on NPR's Fresh Air.  What a terrific album, and what an inspiring personal story.

Monday, July 1, 2013

You Should Find This Band- The National

The National  may be one of those bands you have never heard of. However their fans sure know who they are and support them all over the world. They typically will sell out the summer amphitheaters and large auditoriums that hold between 3,000-10,000 people. I am sure you are asking yourself “How come I don’t know them?”  Well it is time for you to jump on The National bandwagon. You are always welcome.

The first thing you notice about the band is that they are mostly in their 40’s and by looking at them, you would not think they are world famous rock stars. This indie band now working out of Brooklyn was first formed in 1999 in Cincinnati where they were in college. So you can see they have worked their way slowly to the current success they are having. The band presently consists of Matt Berninger who is the principle song writer and singer. It also features two sets of brothers, Arron and Bryce Dessner and Bryan and Scott Devendorf. Their sound is one of the bands who have helped define indie rock. It is dark and melancholy and many times the lyrics may be confusing as to their meaning. They have a mystique about them and this has only helped to keep their indie cred through all these years. The band put out a few highly regarded albums off the Beggars Banquet label. Their fourth album Boxer gained a lot of critical acclaim after its 2007 release. The next album released off of the 4AD  label was High Violet in 2010. Many critics had it on their top albums of the year and it has sold over 600,000 since its release. This is the album that turned me on to this band. I wondered at that point why I had never heard of them before. The National just released Trouble Will Find Me this past May. It actually reached number 3 on the Billboard chart, which shows how far they have come. Here is  “Don’t Swallow the Cap” from the new release:

I can attest to the strength of this album. If you are a National’s fan and haven’t picked it up yet, go now and purchase it. If you don’t know who they are but liked the song, run to your nearest record store and get it. They are touring all throughout the world so check out their web site and see when they are coming near you. I also will leave you with one of my top 10 favorite songs ever, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from High Violet:

There is also a new documentary called Mistaken for Strangers made by Matt Berninger's brother Tom. Tom, a self described metal head who needed to get his life together, went out on tour to film what life on the road was like for a major band. He also wanted to find out why his brother was so loved by critics and fans. The movie is both funny and poignant and shows a lot about the differences in the two brothers. I hope by reading this post you will be encouraged to go jump on the National bandwagon. It is never too late.