In 2007, after a six-year stint playing guitar with the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell set his sights on a solo career and released the album Sirens of the Ditch. Fronting his band the 400 Unit, with whom he recorded his next pair of LPs, 2009’s Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and the 2011 follow-up Here We Rest, Isbell’s live shows were a gritty, raucous blend of blues, country and rock with a setlist that included new tunes as well as material from his Drive-By Truckers days and some choice covers, including a menacing take on Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.”
Sticking more closely to their southern roots, however, Isbell and band worked the crowd up at the Local 506 club in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on a September night in 2007 with a bluesy offering of “Dixie Chicken,” a swamp-boogie tune written by Lowell George and Martin Kibbee (credited as “Fred Martin”) and recorded for the album of the same name by Little Feat in 1973. Isbell’s raspy lead vocal is enhanced by his slide work on electric guitar, echoing the song’s signature riffs throughout the riveting eight-performance.
Since its creation, “Dixie Chicken” has been covered in versions from the joyfully sublime (this one) to the borderline ridiculous, with the latter distinction reserved for the 1977 rendition by Love Boat theme crooner Jack Jones.
Isbell – minus the 400 Unit – broke through in a big way with his next record Southeastern. Released in 2013, Southeastern was the Americana Music Awards Album of the Year in 2014, with the track “Cover Me Up” earning Song of the Year and Isbell named Artist of the Year. At this year’s Americana Honors and Awards, set for Wednesday night at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Isbell’s chart-topping Something More Than Free is vying for Album of the Year. He once again has nods for Artist and Song of the Year (for “24 Frames”).
Isbell also recently co-wrote and plays on his wife Amanda Shires’ new LP, My Own Piece of Land.