Jason Isbell – Southeastern
2013 – Southeastern Records
As I’ve worked through my vinyl collection, there have been some records that have intimidated me to cover. Most of the time, this trepidation arises because complex arrangements, compositions, and/or instrumentation. With Southeastern, the overall density is the element that makes it hard to dissect. I don’t usually comment on lyrical content in my reviews, but in this case, I think it is necessary to state that something special is happening. In the folk tradition, stories are told with music as a backline. What separates Isbell from this tradition is that he not only uses lyrics to tell the story, but uses the music itself to convey messages. His chord choices, as well as their length, echo and add to the stories being told. The arrangements change and move. Instruments enter and exit to help accent plot points. As you work through this album, Isbell invites you along to sidle up beside his main characters as they navigate their trials. The listener is part of the narrative. The mixture of all the elements (musical and lyrical) is what makes this album whole. To speak of one without the other would be doing disservice to this work of art. The playful interplay between the violin and guitar add depth and honesty to the tunes (Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, is behind the bow). The real life connection intermingled with the instrumentation and arrangements gives weight to the stories. Aside from all of that, Southeastern is a really enjoyable album to listen to. Even if you aren’t analyzing the stories or breaking apart musical themes, the tunes groove and have a nice feel to them. Isbell’s newest album with the 400 Unit is spectacular as well, perhaps I will write about that effort in the future. In the meantime, make sure to check out all of Isbell’s music an support him live!