The First Couple of the current Americana Royal Court consists of songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell, who first emerged with the Southern rock outfit the Drive By Truckers and has since risen to become one of the most heralded songwriters and performers of the sub-genre, and his darling wife Amanda Shires—the slight but sparky fiddle player who found her formative years cutting bows with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and later partnering with the Thrift Store Cowboys and others, and now is just as much her own woman in name and stature as she is a venerable side player.
The music epicenters of Muscle Shoals, AL and Lubbock, TX find their native son and daughter melding their respective talent offerings into a tempest of love and emotive expressions in this two-song, surprise release called Sea Songs. Maybe as a stop gap from both halves of this super couple as we all endure through the dark moments between proper LP releases, this double-sided single satiates the belly of the attentive and open-hearted Americana listener.
The first song “I Follow Rivers” is the more progressive of the two songs, feeling indicative of Samantha Crain or the greater North Carolina roots collective in its style and melody construction. Shuffling, sweet in message but dark in mood, it may be a little too complex or fey for some country ears, while others will find the intertwined voices of Shires and Isbell quite infecting of their audio canals.
Warren Zevon adds his chronically-underappreciated songwriting forged in the economic depravity of mid 70’s Echo Park in the project’s second track “Mutineer.” Devout Shires/Isbell followers may have heard this collaboration performed before live, but this new recorded version adds some new wrinkles and an elevated quality that make it unique and worthy of ownership. More traditional, with a sparse approach and perfectly-blended harmonies, the moments in “Mutineer” make audio gems of these two love bird’s mutual adulation. Amanda Shires’ fiddle playing is the art of making harsh sounds ring pretty as she rakes the bow in an manner that emulates the yearning of the soul. “Mutineer” feels like it was written special just for these two to sing.
This isn’t the first time Shires and Isbell have joined forces, and I don’t just mean on stage where for years the tandem has worked in concert. In the summer of 2014, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” got the Isbell/Shires treatment, tantalizing us to a potential future of full or side projects involving the two. Rumors they also moonlight as a spandex-clad crime fighting duo have never been fully confirmed.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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Jason Isbell was also recently part of a podcast with ESPN worth listening to.