On his recent album, Southeastern, singer/songwriter Jason Isbell writes plaintive ballads about dying cancer patients, tender country soul numbers about the process of recovery, and swampy power-pop about Super 8 ass-whuppings. It's his fourth solo album since leaving Georgian southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, a group he departed in 2007, following a divorce from Truckers bassist Shonna Tucker, years of Jack Daniels bottles emptied on stage, and musical differences.
Southeastern finds Isbell sober (his friend Ryan Adams played a role in his recovery), and happily remarried to songwriter/fiddler Amanda Shires, with whom he writes and records. His previous solo albums, filled with Muscle Shoals-inflected R&B and country rock, have always been good, but never quite as good as this one. Southeastern is in turns dark, seedily funny, and carefully hopeful. Whether it's Isbell himself in the song (and often it is) or characters he's singing for, his voice has never sounded so confident or engaging.
We spoke with Isbell via phone from his place in Nashville about recovery, his "bromance" with Adams, and how he and Shires balance marriage and songwriting.