• Paul Wirt

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit "Reunions" Album Review

Jason Isbell first rose to prominence during a stint with the Drive-By Truckers in the early to mid 2000s. His songwriting, voice, and guitar work were a strong addition to the band, which already had two main singer/songwriters in Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Isbell's song "Outfit", with its vivid depiction of a father/son relationship, remains one of the best songs Drive-By Truckers ever created. Since departing the band, Isbell has released a string of solo albums, the last of which (2017's The Nashville Sound) won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. Isbell's writing is as strong as ever on his latest effort Reunions. Backed by his longtime band The 400 Unit, Isbell sings about his failed marriage to former D.B.T. band-mate Shonna Tucker, "I broke my word, I lied on a Bible just to feel a little free...She didn't deserve it; nobody ever deserves it

...But I cut anchor and I drifted out to sea...", his current home life with wife Amanda Shires and their daughter, "Climb to safety, you and me and the baby...", and how people choose to escape from problems instead of facing them head-on "The world’s on fire and we just climb higher ’til we’re no longer bothered by the smoke and sound...", and that's just the first song "What Have I Done To Help?". Elsewhere, Isbell paints an authentic picture of childhood innocence on "Dreamsicle", describes life as a young, hungry, and chemical dependent artist ("Only Children"), opens up about struggling to balance life as a father and performing artist ("Be Afraid"), details his battle with sobriety ("It Gets Easier"), and mentions the complex emotions that come with watching his daughter grow up ("Letting You Go"). Isbell deftly maneuvers between these weighty subjects with grace and maturity and continues to prove himself one of the best songwriters of his generation. The music on Reunions is expertly mixed, as it highlights Isbell's vocals but also allows individual instruments to shine throughout (the slide guitar on "What Have I Done to Help", the piano on "River", and the acoustic guitar on nearly every track are just a few examples). Reunions is a personal album with political undertones that holds a mirror to society and makes the listener ask themselves "what have I done to help?" Instead of preaching to his audience, Isbell wisely asks them to look around and help make things better when and where they can. With Reunions, Jason Isbell has positioned himself as the current king to the alt-country throne. Rating-8.4

(If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and checkout Shires' YouTube account for her "I so Lounging" content featuring Isbell and others playing their own songs as well as choice covers.)


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