Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Reunions
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Reunions (Southeastern/Thirty Tigers, 2020)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

"It gets easier, but it never gets easy," Jason Isbell reminds us on the song "It Gets Easier." It's a simple couplet, utilizing small words, yet it expresses a big truth. Then, with the song's first verse, Isbell - a recovering alcoholic - relays a dream that finds him drinking again. "I woke up feeling fine/That's how I knew it was a dream," he explains, sounding both afraid and relieved. Yes, these words are personal for Isbell, but his message is also a universal one. Whether we're - like Isbell - fighting through addiction or just fighting to get through everyday life, it may get easier, but it will never get easy.

Isbell is one of our most inspired songwriters, which makes each new album well worth immediate attention. And he doesn't let us down with "Reunions." There is much to digest within, which demands repeated - and repeatedly rewarding -- listens. "Overseas" is also a personal song (they all are, really), as it sounds to be directed at Amanda Shires, his wife, while she's touring outside the country. It's a song filled with strikingly confessional details in places. For example: "And I saw you in our daughter's eyes last night/When she caught me in a lie." Whereas lazier songwriters might only have noted how their daughter has her mother's eye color, Isbell recognizes shared character traits, which goes far deeper. Like a great novelist, Isbell captures and grabs your attention with this song's intriguing opening lines. "This used to be a ghost town/But even the ghosts got out." Immediately, the listener's hooked, hungry, and anxiously ready for more detail.

Isbell's exceptional lyric writing may distract you from his equally skilled guitar playing. This is why it's a good idea to listen to the opener, "What've I Done To Help," only focusing on Isbell's crazy good slide guitar playing throughout. His intro electric guitar riff for "Running With Our Eyes Closed" is an entirely different thing of beauty, as it retains a classy and concise Mark Knopfler quality. Isbell closes out with a decidedly country sounding acoustic track titled "Letting You Go." It's a love-infused daddy song by a father obviously smitten with his young daughter.

Jason Isbell music may not be an aural 'easy button,' but it sure makes life better. Just knowing America's Americana poet sees what we're all seeing these days and is an artistic alchemist that can transform his many-times painful experiences into something truly golden, consistently leads to many happy reunions between this artist and his followers.


CDs by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Reunions, 2020 Live at the Ryman, 2018 The Nashville Sound, 2017 Southeastern, 2013 Here We Rest, 2011 Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, 2009


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