One of my big regrets from last year was not being able to see Jason Isbell when he came through Winnipeg last year. I also regret that I have not yet listened to his 2017 album with the 400 Unit, the well regarded Nashville Sound. The Nashville resident put out Reunions in mid-May which was preceded by three singles. The first of those, “Be Afraid” starts of murky but then a drum kicks before the track explodes in the chorus where Isbell let’s everyone know, “we won’t shut up and sing”.
First track “What’ve I Done to Help” is a powerful song about being saved and repeats the title throughout it’s seven minutes. “Dreamsicle” has a more country feel about a kid growing up in a rough situation and dreaming of leaving home when he’s 18. On “Only the Children”, Isbell sings that “heavens wasted on the dead” and about addiction on livelier “It Gets Easier”.
Several songs speak about family including “Overseas” that touches on the life of two parents/musicians. With his demons always close at hand Isbell sings, “saw you in our daughter’s eyes last night when she caught me in a lie”. The album closes with a song for his daughter in “Letting You Go”. Isbell is full of contradictions both personally and musically. A country star (Reunions hit the top of the US country chart), he is not afraid of speaking out about injustices on a must follow Twitter account. He’s funny and sentimental, cool yet nostalgic, country but rock. These contradictions help make for another fine release.