Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Jason Isbell has proven time and time again that he is a true wordsmith and when it comes to writing songs there are few that can match his lyricism. In his early days it was songs like “Danko/Manuel”, “TVA”, and “Decoration Day” that clued listeners in to his talents. Using his words, Isbell is able to paint a vivid picture with songs that allow listeners to see the story unfolding in their head. Listening to songs like “In A Razor Town” or “Cigarettes and Wine” you get lost in the soulful melodies and the world Isbell creates. His last album, Here We Rest, saw his songwriting at its best with tunes like “Tour Of Duty,” “Alabama Pines” and “Codeine”. From start to finish this record was incredibly good and set the bar very high for any album that was to follow. Well, the minstrel from Nashville (by way of Alabama) has just released the follow up, and after letting the soulful tunes invade my ears for a few weeks now I believe he has cleared the bar by quite a bit.
With a lot of changes finding their way into Isbell’s world, a new wife, a new city and new outlook on life he reached into the demons that littered his past and has offered up a batch of melancholy tunes that are anything but sad, if that makes any sense. On Southeastern, you can feel the emotion in his soulful voice as he sings about lonely nights, bad decisions, poor choices and imbibing in a bit too much booze. The album does not come across as an apology or a ‘woe is me’ tale it is an album of redemption, a guy singing about his past and changes he has made which have given him a second chance. For every “Different Day”, a song about not always making the best choices in the past there is a “Stockholm” where he sings about how falling in love changes a man’s life. The more you listen to these songs the better they get. They are more than just fun songs to listen to, they are deep and make you think about what you are listening to.
While each and every song on this record is incredible, there are a few that stand out. The song “Elephant” unveils a relationship between two people who try to avoid the ‘elephant in the room’ which is that one of them is sick and dying. Instead of singing about how much the person will be missed or how sad it is, he sings about getting drunk, singing old country tunes, telling jokes and getting high. The album gets a bit rowdy with “Super 8” as Isbell and band harness the power of a honky tonk. The line “having such a sweet night, audience was alright, drinking like a pirate do” pretty much sums up the gist of this track. Fast and rowdy, he sings of drunken nights on the road and a realization that if changes are not made death will be the outcome. Then there is “Traveling Alone” a somber yet uplifting tune about realizing it is time to grow up, give up the reckless lifestyle and settle down. You can hear the emotion in Isbell’s voice as he yearns for a partner/wife to travel through life with.
With each record Jason Isbell puts out, I enjoy his music more and more. From the rowdy days of the Truckers, the raucous music of the 400 Unit to now, listeners have witnessed a man’s songwriting evolve through the years without sacrificing any of the quality. With each track he pulls from a wealth of musical knowledge utilizing every type of music he needs to get the sounds he wants. The album is littered with country, rock, Americana, soul and folk sounds that are molded into beautiful melodies then coupled with meaningful and emotion drenched words. Southeastern is more than just a record, it is a window into Isbell’s soul and I suggest you take the time too peek in.