Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt


Back when Jason Isbell was drinking, he spent a lot of his New York City downtime at the Lakeside Lounge, on Avenue B. "It's gone now," Isbell, an Alabama-born singer-songwriter, said on a recent visit to the city. "I spent every hour I wasn't working in that place getting fucked up." Sometimes when he was working he'd get fucked up, too. He recalled a disastrous show at Webster Hall, when, after hitting the vodka backstage ("Rednecks can't drink clear liquor"), he got into a fight with his bass player--who happened to be his wife at the time--and she ended up hurting her hand and had to perform with a bandage. "So much misery there," he said.

Jason Isbell

Now when Isbell, who is thirty-six, has time off in the city, he wanders. He and his manager, Traci Thomas, were on their way to the Brooklyn Museum, to see "Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks." Isbell was wearing a stiff denim jacket and had a couple of heavy silver rings on his fingers. His hair was slicked back, like a fifth-grade boy getting his school picture taken.

Isbell, the former guitarist with Drive-By Truckers, quit drinking three and a half years ago. After getting sober, he recorded an acclaimed solo album, "Southeastern" (2013); his new release, "Something More Than Free," continues the character-driven story-song vein. He and his wife, Amanda Shires, whose fiddle and vocal harmonies are heard on much of the new album, are expecting their first child in early September.

To get to the Basquiat exhibition, Isbell and Thomas passed through the Decorative Arts Gallery's period rooms, including one from a South Carolina plantation house. "The Iodine State!" Isbell exclaimed, walking around the dining-room table. Is it a burden for a songwriter with progressive values to represent the South in his music? "It might be a burden, but it's also a blessing," Isbell replied. "What would I have to write about if I were from Vermont? …

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