When Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound was presented with an Album of the Year nomination at the upcoming CMA Awards, no one was more surprised than Isbell himself.
After all, the Alabama native and former Drive-By Trucker recently mentioned to Men’s Journal that he doesn’t consider himself a country singer. He also told Rolling Stone Country of his decision to sit out Nashville’s CMA Fest last June, “I don’t like that kind of music at all. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that I really like that’s in that world. I like that song ‘Girl Crush.’ Some of Miranda Lambert’s songs are really well-written. [Chris] Stapleton’s great. But most of that stuff is just real bad music to me.”
Still, while Isbell told Rolling Stone Country in a recent phone interview that he considers the nomination “flattering,” he won’t be in Music City on November 8th to accept the award in person should he beat out fellow contenders The Weight of These Wings by Lambert, From A Room: Volume 1 by Stapleton, The Breaker by Little Big Town, and Heart Break by Lady Antebellum. Instead, he’ll be touring Europe with his band the 400 Unit and opener Tift Merritt.
“We have a show that night in Germany,” he explains, referring to a gig at Berlin’s Columbia Theater. “For me to come back for the awards show, I’d have to cancel three shows in Europe on people who’d already paid for a ticket, so I won’t be able to go. But if I didn’t have a show that night, I’d go just for the spectacle of it.”
Of his more mainstream colleagues, Isbell says, “I have some friends who write popular country songs who have very similar tastes to my own. They’ve just figured out a formula that works and makes them a lot of money.”
But the person whose taste in music matters most to Isbell is his wife, Amanda Shires, the gifted fiddler and vocalist who was named Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Honors & Awards at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, where her husband completed a six-show residency in October before heading overseas.
“I wouldn’t want to write a song that she wouldn’t dig,” says Isbell. “It’s nice to have somebody there who knows what a good song is. She helps me edit. She’s always the first person who hears the song when I write it. She’ll ask me questions: Is this what you meant to say?”
Isbell recently announced a joint tour with songwriter James McMurtry, which begins January 4th in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.