It can’t be easy for a prolific songwriter to be in a band with other prolific songwriters. One doesn’t have to imagine the pressure George Harrison was under during his tenure with The Beatles; the proof is all over his three-album solo debut, All Things Must Pass.
Clearly Jason Isbell didn’t build up that kind of stockpile during his six-year run with Drive-By Truckers, where he contributed a great deal to the band’s song coffers. And yet during the last two and a half years that Isbell spent with the Truckers he was diverting a number of songs to a solo project he called Sirens of the Ditch, which he released after separating from his wife, DBT bassist Shonna Tucker, and leaving the Truckers for his solo path.
That was a little over three years ago. Isbell has subsequently started his own band, the 400 Unit (christened after the former name of the psych ward of a Florence, Ala., hospital) and dug even deeper into his personal influences for the songs on his second solo outing and his first with his new band. It was obviously the right move; the group’s Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit was acclaimed by an overwhelming number of critics to be one of the best Americana albums (and, in fact, one of the best albums of any genre) in 2009, and the 400 Unit’s incendiary live shows are garnering just as much praise and lathered-up excitement.
At the center of it all is Isbell, soft spoken, clean cut and as unlikely a guitar hero as the Rock world has yet produced. That world is littered with the remains of guys who left successful bands way too early only to see their solo dreams crash and burn, but that scenario won’t apply to Isbell; with his first two albums and a stellar live presentation, he's well on his way to being considered in the same breath as the band that brought him to prominence and ultimately the influences that have inspired him.
Isbell performs Friday for the free MidPoint Indie Summer show on Fountain Square. The show starts at 7 p.m. and also features Brighton MA, The Prohibitionists and Cash Flagg.
(Get show and Fountain Square details here.)