Jason Isbell on the Redemptive Power of Vintage Gear, Sweet Tones and Finding What Works for the Song

Jason Isbell is seated at a small table inside the Barn, his cavernous rehearsal compound far outside of the Nashville sprawl, where the freeways and touristy honky-tonks yield to pastures of electric green. 

Outside, a drizzling rain hangs in the early spring air. “If I’m in a big room like this, I’m thinking, ‘Man, I could write about anything in the whole world.’ The world is so huge.” He gestures, revealing seven hash marks tattooed onto his forearm, one for each year of sobriety. It’s easy to see how someone could get distracted here, even this far from Nashville’s rowdy Broadway strip. 

Duesenbergs, Stratocasters and Telecasters of varying vintage hang from the charcoal-hued walls. Amp heads galore, including Sommatones and Magnatones, are stacked on road cases, and a 1972 Marshall gifted by Dave Cobb, who produced Isbell’s last four albums, rests on a matching ’72 cab that once belonged to Neil Young. 

It’s one hell of a guitarist’s playground, and it’s the place where Isbell cranked out the riffs on Reunions (Southeastern/Thirty Tigers), his new album with his muscular backing band, the 400 Unit.  

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Published by Guitar Player, August 2020