The unique attributes of the American South may have been eroded by the pervasive influence of the internet and the insipid mass media but there’s still something distinctive about the music and culture of the world that exists south of the Mason-Dixon line. If you can see past the ever-present cliché of the racist redneck or the imbecilic farm yokel you’ll find a sociology that’s as elegant as it is perennially proud.
When Jason Isbell sings about romance, he sings from the heart like only a real Southerner can. His voice is emphatic, his emotions sincere. Isbell confesses his sins, and defends – vicariously, at least – the actions of his fellow sinners. On ‘Cover Me Up’ he is alone, protesting his innocence; on the sweetly rocking ‘Stockholm’, Isbell is the travelling troubadour, the sugar-voiced heir to Gram Parsons’ flawed charismatic Southern gentleman. If there’s a better paean to love than ‘Songs That She Sang In The Shower’ then it needs to be packaged up and delivered to the Smithsonian. And for a local angle, look no further than ‘New South Wales’ – whether it’s contemporary, metaphorical or just plain honest.
And that, in a very Southern way, is just what Jason Isbell is, and why he’s to be treasured.