CD Review – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit “Here We Rest”
Second album of Quality Alt-Country mixed with a hefty dose of Southern Soul.
After touring for most of 2009 and 10 Jason Isbell arrived home in Northern Alabama more than a little bit jaded. But after picking up with his old friends around the neighbourhood and listening to their stories he immersed himself in the local music scene and found himself invigorated again.
With all of that in mind there is a new found maturity to the writing on HERE WE REST compared to Isbell’s first couple of albums and the album’s sound is noticeably more ‘relaxed’ and more in keeping with the Muscle Shoals sound that the casual listener would expect.
Alabama Pines will strike a chord with a lot of men caught up in the current economic downturn as he reflects on the choices he’s made that have conspired to why he now leads a lonely life in a small room away from the ones he loves and once loved him.
The band strikes up a nice old-timey rhythm on Codeine but it only masks the story of a man sitting at home wondering where his once sparkling but now drug addled wife is and what she’s doing. It’s a strangely sad but beautiful song.
As with all Alt-Country albums the overall ‘feel’ is more Country than what passes for Country in Nashville these days; but the themes are usually deep and dark and rooted in 21st Century living which is especially true of Save it for Sunday when the narrator has to save up his worries and fears until Sunday when he can finally unload in the local bar. The song is captivating and will burrow into your brain.
In 2006 Neil Young complained that none of the younger generation were writing anti-war songs; so he picked up the mantle and produced Living With War which is one of his worst ever albums!
I begged to differ at the time and in the intervening years I could easily put together a double album of memorable songs about war and the effects of war and if I did Tour of Duty would be one of the first tracks on the playlist.
The tune starts with the guitars and drums mimicking a train bringing our hero home, then the soldier tells us how much he’s looking forward to getting home and getting on with his life.
The lyrics are stunning; I promise not to bore you with my stories/I promise not to scare you with my tears/I never would exaggerate the glory/as I’ll seem satisfied here but there is always the underlying feeling that our man has troubles that he won’t or can’t talk about I’ve taught myself to tolerate the pain/I’m not the same man I was which probably resonates with 99% of the military who do return home to their families. This is a lot more ‘Anti-war’ than just saying ‘War is Bad!’
On HERE WE REST Jason Isbell tackles some very difficult subjects and comes through admirably and in doing so moves The 400 Unit into the upper echelons of Alt-Country, in one swoop.
#this review first appeared in MAVERICK Magazine in the UK March 2011 and I can’t think why I didn’t post it on ND!