For those of you familiar with the Drive-By Truckers out of Athens, you may already be well acquainted with their former member Jason Isbell. If you’re not, this is the part where you’re going to want to sit up straight and pay attention.
Responsible for several of Drive-By’s biggest hits including “Decoration Day”, “Goddamn Lonely Love” and “Outfit”, the Muscle Shoals, AL (of FAME Studios, well… fame) has reinvented himself since leaving the group in 2007. Touring largely with his outstanding backing band The 400 Unit, Isbell has toured the world behind his Drive-By hits, country covers, and some of his most original work to-date–the majority of which can be found on his newest album Southeastern. Having conquered his alcoholism and inner demons, Isbell is barnstorming the country and leaving a wake of old fans and new converts in his path.
Since its release this past June, Southeastern has garnered near universal acclaim, earning an 88 on metacritic and putting Isbell in the New York Times. It’s also marked a break with Isbell’s Drive-By past. Despite leaving the group several years ago, Isbell’s solo career has always seemed to suffer from throwback comparisons to the Truckers. But with Southeastern, Isbell finally seems to have landed not just with both feet on the ground, but more importantly with a loaded chamber full of some of his most impressive work to date.
Hard as it may be to write a song like “Outfit”, I’d imagine it would be even harder writing songs that can justifiably compare to it. Striking the difficult but all-important balance between personal storytelling and emotional “relatability,” Southeastern‘s success lies in its focus not on “hitting rock bottom” as Pitchfork (unfortunately) put it, but on “what happens after you pick yourself back up.” It’s an album of both contemplative reflection and an indomitable resolve, and it firmly re-establishes Isbell at the forefront of the country/roots rock movement, this time as his own man (note: check out Isbell’s most recent live album Live from Alabama as well). While standouts include the lovely “Cover Me Up”, both a love song and a exercise in self-reflection, the magnificent “Elephant”, and the album’s resonating closer “Relatively Easy”, the album operates a cohesive and immensely satisfying whole; one that listeners are privileged to hear.
Fans of all subgenres, brands, and mutations of rock and roll should sit up and pay attention to the rejuvenated Isbell, as should our American readers along his upcoming schedule. Tickets can be found through Isbell’s website, along with a list of his remaining tour dates.
Thank me later.
Oh, and the opening act, St. Paul and the Broken Bones are pretty damn good too…