Out of anybody in the country music scene right now, Zach Bryan might be one of the best possible artists to cover Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues.”
As an active-duty member of the military, it’s not hard to imagine what a song like “Dress Blues” might mean to him. Written by Jason Isbell, Zach Bryan released a cover of this song way back in 2018, before his viral rise into country music spotlight.
Released on his debut solo album Sirens of the Ditch in 2007, “Dress Blues” is one of the most underappreciated songs in Isbell’s illustrious catalog. According to an American Songwriter, Isbell wrote the song in response to the 2006 deaths of Marine Cpl. Matthew D. Conley and 2nd Lt. Almar L. Fitzgerald in Iraq. Conley, who died at only 21 years old, attended and played quarterback at Rogers High School in Lauderdale County, Alabama, the same school that Isbell had attended a few years before him. At the time of his death, Conley’s wife was pregnant with their first child.
Isbell didn’t know Conley well, but his mother was in attendance at the memorial service, and his tragic death moved him to write “Dress Blues.” Paying tribute to Conley, and all the other fallen soldiers through eloquent lyricism, Isbell also questions the necessity of these wars and the tragedy they cause.
“Dress Blues” also achieved some mainstream exposure in 2015 when Zac Brown Band covered the song for their album Jekyll + Hyde.
Now that you know the story behind the song, here’s a snippet of the lyrics.
What can you see from your window? I can’t see anything from mine Flags on the side of the highway And scripture on grocery store signs Maybe eighteen was too early Maybe thirty or forty is too Did you get your chance to make peace with the man Before he sent down his angels for you?
Mamas and grandmamas love you ‘Cause that’s all they know how to do You never planned on the bombs in the sand Or sleeping in your dress blues
Your wife said this all would be funny When you came back home in a week You’d turn twenty-two and we’d celebrate you In a bar or a tent by the creek Your baby would just about be here Your very last tour would be up But you won’t be back, they’re all dressing in black Drinking sweet tea in styrofoam cups
Mamas and grandmamas love you American boys hate to lose You never planned on the bombs in the sand Or sleeping in your dress blues
If that salute to the troops doesn’t send shivers down your spine, I don’t know what will.