By Geoffrey Rowlands
Gratitude plays a major role in Jason Isbell’s life. Not least for the intervention of his then girlfriend, now wife, fellow musician Amanda Shires, manager Tracie Thomas and music star Ryan Adams who got him into rehab at Cumberland Heights, an alcohol and drug-treatment centre in Nashville, Tennessee.
“That was back in February, 2012,” stated 38-year-old Jason. “I’d flirted with the idea of rehab a few times and had finally reached a point where I really wanted to get clean.
“But I don’t think I’d have done it without Amanda. She called my mom, my manager, Ryan and a bunch of other people whose opinions I respect. They all persuaded me the time was right and promised to hold me accountable so that I wouldn’t relapse.”
The alcohol abuse had become prevalent during Jason’s six years as a member of Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers. Although his departure was described to fans as amicable, Jason was actually forced out of the band. He was not a happy drunk. There were ugly scenes and confrontations which had become too much for founder members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.
“It was heartbreaking at the time. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Looking back from the perspective of a sober person, I realise they were right. I’d been arrested for public drunkenness, I’d wake up in strange places with no idea of how I got there. I couldn’t even remember the good times we had, let alone the bad.”
At this time, Jason was married to Shonna Tucker who had joined Drive-By Truckers as their bassist in 2003. His behaviour almost inevitably led to a divorce and Shonna stayed with the band until 2011.
“It’s amazing how sometimes things just seem to work out. I can’t believe the strength of my relationship with Amanda. I used to think only stupid people could love each other this much. If I’d not had my problems, I might still have been married to Shonna and playing with Drive-By Truckers.”
Jason certainly wouldn’t swap the life he has now. But he was by no means an overnight success. Having decided to become a solo artist, his 2007 debut album, Sirens of the Ditch, did not fare too well. There was no place in the Billboard 200 though it did peak at number 33 on the Independent Albums chart.
Things improved after Jason put together a backing band, The 400 Unit, and released their self-titled album in 2009. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit hit number 17 on the Independent chart and reached number 131 on the Billboard 200. He may have been taking small steps but there was a progression in his career.
This was confirmed with 2011’s Here We Rest. The first album to feature contributions from Amanda Shires, it peaked at number 15 on the Independent chart, number 24 on the Top Rock Albums chart and number 79 on the Billboard 200.
“We’d built a real following by that time. I’d started dating Amanda so I had also found happiness in my personal life. But I was still abusing myself and the people I loved with my drinking.”
After his successful stint in rehab, and now around 40 pounds lighter, the newly svelte and permanently sober Jason wrote and recorded the songs for what would become his 2013 breakthrough album, Southeastern.
“I actually thought to myself that I want to remember it all this time. The songs were very personal. So much so that we only brought in The 400 Unit to play on some of the tracks. It was finished just two days before my wedding to Amanda so it was a very happy time in my life even though many of the songs deal with serious issues.”
Critical recognition had already come Jason’s way when Alabama Pines, a track from Here We Rest, won Song of the Year at the 2012 Americana Music Awards. But he swept the board at the 2014 ceremony winning Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, for Cover Me Up, and Album of the Year with Southeastern.
“I have to thank Amanda for giving me the courage to write the songs on Southeastern. Reaching number 23 on the Billboard 200 and number seven on the Rock Albums chart was way beyond anything I could have expected. Then winning those awards was kind of like being welcomed as the artist and person I’d become rather than the person I had been.”
Even greater success followed in 2015 when Jason’s next album, Something More Than Free, gave him his first number one. It took pole position on the Top Country Albums, Top Rock Albums and Folk Albums charts. The LP also hit second spot on the Independent chart, number six on the Billboard 200 and even reached number 17 on the UK albums chart.
Jason won two more Americana Awards, for Song of the Year, with 24 Frames, and Album of the Year. The quality of his work was also recognised in the Grammy Awards with 24 Frames winning Best American Roots Song and Something More Than Free winning Best Americana Album.
“The Grammy Awards were so special. They capped a wonderful period in my life. It was a few months after Amanda had given birth to our daughter, Mercy Rose. It was hard to believe life could get any better.”
Yet Jason’s life has gotten better. His latest album, The Nashville Sound, has debuted at number four on the Billboard 200, taken top spot on the Country, Rock and Folk charts as well as giving him his first Independent chart number one.
“Dave Cobb produced the last two albums. If it’s not broke, I’m not going to try to fix it so Dave also produced the new album. It’s really easy to find the sounds I want with him and we have a great time working together.
“Lyrics and melody remain the driving forces behind what we do but there’s more of a rock ‘n’ roll influence on this album. The words might still make you shed some tears but there’s a chance the music might also make you want to dance a little.”
Katy Perry has become the first artist in Recording Industry Association of America history to earn three Diamond Song Awards.
Her track, Roar, has now surpassed the ten million mark for song sales and streams in the United States. It follows her previous Diamond-certified songs, Dark Horse and Firework.
Launched in 1958, the RIAA’s Gold & Platinum brand is the premier award for recognising artistic achievement. It was expanded in 1999 to include the Diamond Award for ten million certifications of a song or album.
Only 14 singles have so far achieved Diamond Award status. It is easier to do so nowadays with the inclusion of streams. Indeed, Elton John’s 1997 double A-side, Candle In The Wind 1997 / Something About The Way You Look Tonight, was the only single to receive a Diamond Award before 2013.
Katy now stands alone atop the list. Eminem and Lady Gaga share second spot with two Diamond Award singles.
Ben Haggerty and Holly Hefermann are back on the music scene. Better known as Macklemore and Skylar Grey, the rapper and singer have teamed up to write and record Glorious. Described as an ode to fresh starts and embracing life, it is the lead single from Macklemore’s forthcoming solo album.
Despite being available worldwide, there is no accompanying video. A live performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-_ub09u3wo
Otherwise, an official audio posting of Glorious is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nXxPTsy5Gc
Canadian indie band Arcade Fire have been busy. They announced the release of Everything Now, the title-track from their forthcoming fifth studio album, during the band’s performance at the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain. Limited edition 12-inch vinyl copies were available for festival-goers to buy.
One day later, the video for Everything Now was posted online. It can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC30BYR3CUk
Not content with one single to promote the new album, Arcade Fire have since released two more. Creature Comfort was issued just 17 days after Everything Now. The song video is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzwicesJQ7E
Two weeks later, Signs of Life became the third single. The video for this track is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Dx4IAD1NLo
There is still time for the band to issue even more singles before Arcade Fire’s new album is released on July 28.
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