Friday Night with Guitar George: Jason Isbell Edition


Writer’s note: On Wednesday night I finished writing this essay about Jason Isbell that mentions Sadler Vaden. Unbeknownst of this, on Thursday morning Vaden tweeted out an article about Isbell—a day before my essay goes out worldwide on the BGS blog. Draw whatever conclusions you want to, but surely this will help my #brand.

Happy New Year everybody! If you haven’t already done so, please check out the BGS compilation of lists of 2015’s best albums. The lists are well thought out, the comments are well written, and Bennett did a great job of putting it all together, plus he gets bonus points for the superb paragraph he wrote about Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

I have only two disappointments from the lists: the absence of Songhoy Blues’ Music in Exile, whose merits I extolled in the September 11 edition of FNWGG, and Jason Isbell’s appearance on only one of the lists (it was SRB’s list, because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

Jason Isbell has been around for a while, both as a member of Drive-By Truckers and as a solo artist, producing along the way a very admirable body of work. But there is something special about Something More Than Free—a John Prine-ish blend of tenderness and grit that comes from spending years on a road that began in Lauderdale County Alabama but never completely left it behind. While Nashville sloshes Bud Light and cow manure around in a Magic Bullet and packages it up nice and pretty and tries to pass it off as genuine country music, Jason Isbell is out here living a real life and writing real songs about it.

Oh, and by the way, Isbell is a pretty good guitarist as well. And by the way, Isbell’s current band sometimes includes the talents of magician-guitarist Sadler Vaden, formerly of Drivin’ N Cryin’. And sometimes they have the audacity to cover iconic rock artists like Neil Young and the Rolling Stones, but they have the talent to pull it off. Tonight’s featured video is a scorching performance of Young’s “Like a Hurricane”. And check out this rendition of the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” The video quality of the latter is not great, but the quality of the performance more than compensates. The “Hurricane” video is of better quality, except for the fact that the person recording it decides way too late to turn the camera toward Vaden, who is absolutely shredding, especially 4:55 to 5:40. (Don’t worry, friends—Sadler will get his own FNWGG edition in the near future.)

Despite their flaws, both these videos are worth checking out. Al Gore invented the internet so that guys like Guitar George could discover guys like Jason Isbell and Sadler Vaden performing songs like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” and “Like a Hurricane.” What a time to be alive.

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