Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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***1/2

JASON ISBELL
Sirens of the Ditch
New West

The Drive-By Truckers were a full-formed entity in 2001, when young Jason Isbell's yearning tenor gave the eloquent Skynyrd fans an actual singer and show-stoppers like "Outfit" and "Decoration Day" gave them a third songwriter who could lead most bands. Only now we get to find out: in April, Isbell quit the Truckers while his bassist wife stayed put. On Isbell's solo debut, musicians from the Truckers' orbit trade garage barrage for pop-soul structure, and often the songs are right there: "Grown," to the older girl who taught him how to take it slow; "Shotgun Wedding," to a guy who digs pregnant chicks; "Dress Blues," for a neighbor blown up in Iraq the last week of his tour; "Try," about someone else's marriage gone to hell on the road. Problem's the usual--like so many solo debuts, this one cries out for dramatic context and musical changes of pace. Good luck to all concerned.

Rolling Stone, 2007