Isbell had joined the group two years earlier, shortly after the release of their breakthrough 2001 album Southern Rock Opera, but Decoration Day was the first Truckers album to feature his songwriting via “Outfit” and “Decoration Day,” both of which still remain staples of his solo repertoire today.
“He was immediately part of the fold,” Truckers co-frontman Patterson Hood said of Isbell’s joining of the band in 2015. “He was made a full partner in the band. Hell, we didn’t have anything else to offer.”
Decoration Day would go on to become one of the Athens-based band’s most well-regarded records, showing the “tuneful evocation of the darker side of Southern life,” as Rolling Stone stated in its original review of the album, on instant classics like “Marry Me” and “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy.” Recorded during a quick two-week session with longtime producer David Barbe, Decoration Day contained many of Patterson Hood’s most beloved songs, alternating with newfound grace between softer, country-tinged offerings on “Heathens” and “My Sweet Annette” and hard-edged Southern grunge on “Sink Hole.”
“That whole album is really about love and loss and the choices you make,” Hood said in 2014. “Dealing with the consequences of the choices you make is a huge overriding theme in Decoration Day. I was going through a divorce when I wrote my songs for that record and I think everyone in the band was going through a lot of personal relationship angst at the time that the record was being written.”
The album, the first of three Isbell would record with the group, remains the central document of the Isbell-era of the Truckers. “Everybody was in the same shitty mood I think, except for me,” Isbell said of the album in 2006. “I was just happy to be there at that point and time.”