by Ray Van Dusen
Monroe County Journal
Just looking at the simple cover of Jason Isbell’s highly-acclaimed solo release, “Southeastern,” my mind flashes back to a time when Phil Collins’ face, name and album title were all you saw on the cover. Once those songs hit the airwaves, they were hits paving a different path from Collins’ years with Genesis and a new beginning for one of the more reputable radio-friendly voices of the 80s.
With Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers days six years gone and a one-album break from his accompanying band, the 400 Unit (sort of), Isbell’s 12-track album is somewhat of a transition for the reigning Americana Music Awards’ Song of the Year Award winner.
The music itself runs the scales from his slow, melodic acoustic style to a true rock guitar and drums sound to a southern rock romp reminiscent to the Truckers days. The personal level of the album speaks louder than the music itself, though.
Almost every one of the other dozens’ worth of national articles fueling the hype of the release of “Southeastern” hinges on the angle of it being Isbell’s sobriety album.
Somewhere mixed in the text of those same articles is mention of him finding love with a Texas fiddler named Amanda Shires. Somewhere mixed in the lyrics of most of the songs on “Southeastern,” that sense of love seems reoccurring.
To whatever degree Americana music can pull on the heartstrings, Isbell is giving it his best try.
With his 2011 release with the 400 Unit, “Here We Rest,” some of the inspiration came from overhearing conversations in a bar he once frequented, along with other surroundings in his native Shoals area of north Alabama.
With “Southeastern,” anyone of his thousands of Twitter followers who kept track of his whirlwind last two years supporting the previous album, it’s a summary of his transition.
From a newfound friendship with David Letterman, countless shows zigzagging the states and, of course, his blossoming romance and ultimate marriage to Shires, Isbell has stacked plenty of bragging rights.
I can’t say any of these tracks will be friendly enough to make it past college radio, but I bet a Paste Magazine feature story and an indepth article in the New York Times that “Southeastern” will push Isbell’s recognized name a little more widespread.
As far as following suit with Phil Collins’ ultimate Genesis reunion, any Drive-By Truckers fan can only hope for the same, but at least a pull out album poster with song lyrics on the back is a nice consolation prize for now.
My top picks: “Fly over Water” and “Relatively Easy”
Ray Van Dusen is the news editor for the Monroe Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.