Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Here We Rest
As a former member of the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell has been haunted with comparisons between his past and his present. Critics have continually said that his solo work doesn’t live up to his work with DBT and that he’s still trying to find his voice. Well, I think that’s pure bullshit. I love Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit’s new album, Here We Rest. This is his second album with the 400 Unit, and Isbell’s third since leaving DBT, and I was completely and immediately enamored with it. I honestly feel like Isbell has found his voice. Albeit, less Southern rock and more country, soul, and R & B but still damn good.
An Alabama native, Isbell proudly nods to his roots with the album’s title, Here We Rest, which was Alabama’s original motto, and with the way he has perfectly captured the sound of these roots in song. The opening track, “Alabama Pines,” exemplifies Isbell’s pride. It’s a folksy acoustic tune with an inflection of homesickness stressed by a lonesome fiddle. Then, the guitar gets cranked up on the hard rockin’ “Go It Alone” while “We’ve Met” is a gentle heartache.
“Codeine,” the record’s standard, tells of a failing relationship and an ex-lover who has moved on to someone with a pain reliever. Its country shuffle and fiddle flourishes could hide the sad lyrics, but Isbell’s subtle tone reveals its tragic story. When Isbell sings, “There is one thing I can’t take/ Is the sound that a woman makes/ About five seconds after her heart begins to break/ Well, that’s one thing I can’t take.” It’s one of Isbell’s many lyrics that have stuck with me since hearing it weeks ago.
Isbell’s writing really shines in the raw and sympathetic “Stopping By.” Emotionally arresting, Isbell sings about a absentee dad who returns to see the family he abandoned years before. It’s the best four minutes on the album, and that’s saying a lot since the record is brimming with some of Isbell’s best work.
And, a R & B country penetrates Isbell’s version of Candi Stanton’s “Heart On A String” bathing the track in soul. The track makes you want to grab a partner and dance.
Contrary to certain reviews, Jason Isbell’s talents are not dormant. Instead, Isbell has grown, growing out of the Drive-By Trucker aesthetic without completely forgetting about his life and musical roots. Here We Rest is heartfelt, soulful and addictive. It is truly Isbell’s benchmark record by which all others will be compared.
–April Wolfe @ Common Folk Music