(5 / 5)
“Reunions” is the glorious new album by four-time Grammy-winner Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit.
The voice. The songwriting His sublime style….all very much on-point. File under Americana by all means, but his is a subtly contemporary take on the genre.
On his seventh solo record, Jason slings in hints of folk and rock to the mix, but is not trying too hard to be bang up to date.
I am sold even after just the first song, “What Have I Done To Help”. Jason’s voice soars and has an urgency. A striking melody….Acoustic guitar, bubbling bass and sensuous violin, to deliver one of the most powerful musical starts of any album I’ve heard in quite some time.
By the time the drums kick in – building towards an exquisite contemporary groove – we are primed to engage with the lyrics that instantly display Isbell’s knack of creating vivid images through precise word-smithing.
“What Have I Done To Help” is a powerful start, and a song written from the experience of stomach churning feelings in relation to what “he” – if he is the subject of the lyrical content – feels he has contributed to his and to others’ lives.
The lyrical content across this album darts from the political, such as “Be Afraid”, dealing with the numbed silence of the people in the face of political situations that defy morals and common sense – to the painfully personal, such as “Dreamsicle”, about parental separation from the child’s perspective. A very moving track.
These 10 tracks succeed by the marrying of masterful song writing, skilled musicianship – including Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires on violin – and the deft production work of David Cobb.
The political songs expose Isbell’s obvious compassion and sensitivity towards the human complexities of the political situations we currently find ourselves in.
No stranger to outspoken political commentary. Born in the Southern Republican heartland of Alabama, Isbell “came out” as a fully-fledged Democrat, quoted as saying, “Jesus wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump”. Much to the disdain of much of his Southern natives, who advised him not to be ashamed of his roots.
It is to Isbell’s history that we must look, to try to explain the build up to this album’s power. Six years with Southern rockers The Drive-By Truckers, and then a steady stream of solo releases (six) since 2007.
These acclaimed, and “in their own lane”, releases saw this artist steadily build a reputation as one of the great contemporary songwriters. His last two albums were top 20 UK album chart hits and topped the US chart – and with “Reunions”, he has if you like, come of age and matured into a triumphant and uber-focused musical presence.
I guess that means that he is flush with self-knowledge and spiritual growth. He certainly has earned respect for a combination of flawless musicianship, writing creativity and experienced performance ability.
Shored up with the knowledge that he has won hard battles – both in terms of career success and his fight with alcoholism – this accomplished album glows with the rewards of that accumulated achievement and dedication.
Recently the Coronavirus-related death of the legendary artist John Prine robbed the world of one of our greatest songwriters – and it robbed Jason Isbell of a friend, a mentor and probably his main influence.
The qualities of Prine’s vivid song writing live on in Jason Isbell, who will surely continue his musical journey from strength to strength, judging by this stunning piece of work.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play London’s Eventim Apollo on November 17th, Manchester Albert Hall on 18th Nov and Dublin’s Dan Lowrey’s Music Hall on 19th.
By Max Robertson
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’