Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Reunions (Southeastern) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, July 5th, 2020  

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Reunions

Southeastern

Jun 03, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Reunions, the latest record from the Alabama-born and Nashville-based country sensation, Jason Isbell, often resembles a face-to-face chat with the songwriter as he dispels wisdom earned from a life in music, questions born from a life on the road and love that blossomed from family. But Reunions is also a personal redemption. The 10-track record, which is slickly produced and pleasant on the ears, opens with a forceful query: What have I done to help? 

The refrain, which Isbell repeats in a deep chest voice, is also the title of the first track on the record. It sets the tone for the thoughtful, introspective, caring album that follows. Track two, “Dreamsicle,” This is noticeably softer in tone as it tells the story of a family leaving town through the eyes of a kid. The song is tender, with Isbell agonizing over the difficulty of innocence. “Only Children” is next. The song, moodier, also reminisces as Isbell sings of “broken people” and demo tapes. 

“Overseas” opens with a teary guitar solo. Isbell sings of desolation, a sense of near-hopelessness in his voice. His tone grows, though. He sounds almost like Bruce Springsteen before another guitar riff rips. “Running With Our Eyes Closed” brings a blues sensibility to the record. Isbell sings of trust and testing life’s limits. But through these epics, the forthright push forward. “River” could be a time-tested spiritual, like that of “Running With Our Eyes Closed.” In it Isbell pays homage to the changing nature that always persists around us. 

The record’s lead single, “Be Afraid,” is a thick, driving song (that hit #5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart). It’s a preface to the record’s final three tracks, which are its most reflective. “St. Peter’s Autograph” features Isbell singing along with a strummed acoustic, thin threads of slide guitar behind him. The song touches on loss and compromised faith. We’re all struggling with the “world on fire,” Isbell tells us. The rocker, “It Gets Easier,” follows. The song is both hopeful and realistic. It gets easier, but is never easy. 

Reunions, ironically enough, concludes with a song about letting someone go. The song is a lovely conclusion to an album that feels like a fireside conversation. The acoustic, storytelling tune is about a parent watching a child grow up and the need to let that child go. Now, with Isbell’s jangly, hard-earned wisdom, we too can be let go into a new world buoyed at least by his latest batch of terrific songs. Isbell can be confident he has helped at least that much. (www.jasonisbell.com

Author rating: 8/10

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