Jason Isbell stands out from the rest of the pack at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience this year — he's among less than a handful of singer-songwriters in the lineup, and it's hard not to ask "What is he doing here?" seeing him alongside Jack U and Girl Talk, who occupy the same time slot.
Isbell last performed in New Orleans at the House of Blues in 2013 and at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, both on the heels of his 2013 album Southeastern. He returns now in the wake of Something More Than Free (which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's rock, country and folk charts), the anticipated follow-up to his acclaimed breakthrough, a reflective, deeply personal album recorded after a stint in rehab. On it he shames himself for benders spent in Super 8 motels and uses sober storytelling as a narrator to nudge his subjects to a fresh start. He swept the 2014 Americana Awards for song, album and artist of the year.
Southeastern producer Dave Cobb — who encouraged Isbell to use single vocal takes and a band to flesh out what were to be stark acoustic arrangements on that album — returned to the helm for Something, guiding the singer from the darkness that inevitably shrouded Southeastern.
Isbell's hard-working characters live unfulfilled lives and he distills their pain — "Speed Trap Town" tells a reverse-Springsteen tale of what happens when you can't pull out of a town full of losers — but there's a hope in their sadness and in his rusty drawl, even "if it takes a lifetime," as he sings on the album opener. "I don't think on why I'm here or where it hurts," his working man sings on the title track. "I'm just lucky to have the work."