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Identity crisis: How Jason Isbell finally found his voice

With a rock’n’roll heart but a country exterior, Jason Isbell suffered from an identity problem. Now, with a gritty new album, he’s finally found his audience

"I want to be a rock’n’roll musician,” Jason Isbell says, looking every inch the rock’n’roll musician, hair slicked back and dressed in denim. “But there’s no such thing. Not any more.”

That sounds a little odd coming from a man who has sustained a 16-year career playing rock’n’roll, first as one of three guitarists in Drive‑By Truckers during their most Skynyrd‑esque phase, then as a solo artist, fronting his own band, the 400 Unit. Along the way he’s won Grammy awards, cracked the Top 10 of the US album chart and become one of rock’s most consistently rewarding writers. But what he’s trying to explain is why he rarely gets called a rock’n’roller – last year’s two Grammy awards were for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song respectively.

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