Since 2001, Jason Isbell has served admirably as the Drive-By Truckers’ junior senator, the third arm in a guitar/songwriter onslaught that also stars Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Theirs was a lineup to rival the glory-days Yankees, or that time Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage teamed up. But in April, Isbell and the Truckers finally had The Talk.
Born over the past four years in Muscle Shoals, Sirens Of The Ditch has moments that will sound satisfyingly familiar to Isbell’s Trucker fans, especially “Brand New Kind Of Actress”, which finds the 28-year-old pushing his deceptively warm-hearted tenor down well-traveled, narrative roads. But the album is flavored more with hooks and power-pop seasonings than DBT’s meaty southern fare; co-produced by Isbell and Hood, it’s among the most polished-sounding things to feature Trucker names on its jacket.
“Grown” is all heartland jangle, “Down In A Hole” is a humid, swamp-rat detour, and “Chicago Promenade” jumps well north from Isbell’s traditional geographic stomping grounds, with a mournful piano to boot. The brilliant “Dress Blues” is sold out by a much stronger version making the rounds online; in it, Isbell delivers his eulogy with a brutal starkness, while the album version sports country bells and whistles that come off as distracting.
The split is now claimed by all parties to be amicable, which seems borne out by the fact that several Truckers appear here: Hood, bassist Shonna Tucker (Isbell’s wife), and John Neff, who has more or less replaced Isbell in the band. Some DBT fans may be put off by the poppier-than-expected sound, but Sirens Of The Ditch leaves no doubt that the junior senator is fully invested in his run for higher office.