Southeastern is not a record Jason has made before, and not simply because the glorious storm and drama of his band, the 400 Unit, is absent. They will tour together; it’s not a break-up record, not an album of dissolving, but, rather, songs of discovery. And not at all afraid, not even amid the tears.
Which is to say that he has grown up.
That it has been a dozen years since he showed up at a party and left in the Drive-By Truckers’ van with two travel days to learn their songs. And then taught them some of his songs in the bargain.
Jason Isbell’s solo career has seemed equally effortless, from Sirens of the Ditch (2007) to Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit (2009), through Here We Rest (2011) and last year’s Live From Alabama. Loud records, unrepentantly southern, resplendent with careful songwriting. Songs which inspire and intimidate other musicians, and critics.
"A heart on the run / keeps a hand on the gun / can’t trust anyone,” Jason sings just now, his words brushing gently atop an acoustic guitar figure “Cover Me Up,” the song with which he has chosen to open Southeastern. Such tenderness. An act of contrition, an affirmation of need, his voice straining not to break: “Girl leave your boots by the bed / We ain’t leaving this room / Till someone needs medical help / Or the magnolias bloom.”