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September 5, 2013 at 5:30 AM
Jason Isbell | Concert preview
The crowds are bigger lately. His head is clearer. The new album, “Southeastern,” is selling better than any of his previous releases.It’s been a pretty good year for Jason Isbell, if a hectic one. The Alabama singer-songwriter and former Drive-By Truckers guitarist recently got back from London and had been busy using the small window of time before he started the West Coast leg of his tour last week in Denver. Isbell hits Neumos Tuesday night.
“I’m not going to complain about it,” Isbell said of his busy schedule. “We’re selling a lot of records compared to anything I’ve ever done in the past. I’m very grateful for that. If it takes me getting up at four in the morning to do CBS Morning News, I’ll do that. It’s still a hell of a lot easier than what my dad’s always done for a living.”
It was hearing stories about his father’s work at Southeastern Tool and Die when he was 10 or 11 years old that helped inspire Isbell to become a musician — and also lent its name to the album.
“Really I was just trying to reclaim the name of a place that when I was a child my dad would come home from work and tell me stories,” he said. “The place sounded like a dungeon and he was enduring torture every day. I think that was one of the things that drove me to find a job that I actually enjoyed as an adult.”
Isbell enjoyed that career path to predictable excess, and it was the intervention of his then-girlfriend Amanda Shires that finally helped him find sobriety. Isbell and Shires ended up getting married, and “Southeastern” became an album of not only hard knocks but redemption.
With production by Dave Cobb, the album is also Isbell’s best solo effort to date. It’s got grit and takes advantage of some masterful vocal work by Isbell even if the choice to let Cobb implement his vision for the record was not easy at first.
“I think part of what he heard for that album and those songs was a rougher sound,” Isbell said. “I just didn’t want to keep making the same album over and over.”
With a fresh sound and freedom from what he described as a “daily hangover,” Isbell said he’s been enjoying himself on tour and dealing with the ups and downs better.
“It’s really good,” he said. “We’ve got people requesting new songs and singing along. You want to feel like the current yields better than the past.”
8 p.m. Tuesday at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $17 advance (206-709-9442 or www.neumos.com)
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