Turn it up, turn it up (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit ”Reunions”)

Americana singer-songwriter Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit have been favourites of mine ever since I saw them in Gothenburg on June 17, 2018. Isbell has a unique voice and he’s an excellent guitarist. On May 15, 2020 they released a new album, Reunions, their first with new material since The Nashville Sound in 2017.

I bought the exclusive orange vinyl (as seen on the pic above) and I’ve been spinning it on my record player a lot this last month. The lyrics and the unique sound speak to me and have reflected the mood I’ve been in. The lyrics are both political and personal and the songs are beautifully crafted and executed. This is an album I appreciate a great deal.

The refrain of the opening track (and second single), What’ve I Done to Help, repeats its titular line over and over and you sense the singer’s feel of guilt or helplessness (or both) for living a good life while looking at the mess of a world that surrounds him — something a lot of us can relate to.

The seventh track and the album’s first single, Be Afraid, is a rocker with some country influences. It’s another politically charged song, this time urging artists to use their voices to take a stand even though they might be afraid. Isbell for one isn’t going to be quiet and just look at what is happening in the world, something you see both in his lyrics and on Twitter, where he is very active.

“I’ll never lose sleep over not selling more records, but I’ll definitely lose sleep over keeping my mouth shut and letting things happen to people who are minorities for whatever reason, be it gender or their race or their sexual preference or the fact that they ‘like science.’”, Isbell told Rolling Stones in an interview in 2018.

We don’t take requests, we won’t shut up and sing.

Tell the truth enough you’ll find it rhymes with everything.

Reunions is a highly personal album too. One of my favourite songs is Dreamsicle. In a classic country melody, Isbell sings about the struggles of his own (?) turbulent childhood. The lyrics reveal a child that has to move from town to town, his fighting parents, including a mother who is trying her best but clearly struggling and an absent father.

Other personal songs are; Letting You Go, on being a father (Isbell has a daughter who is four years old) and Overseas, an incredibly sad and romantic song Isbell wrote when he and his wife were apart when on separate tours.

Isbell got sober eight and a half year ago and his unique perspective on the subject of sobriety is portrayed in It Gets Easier. The song is about looking at it from a perspective of time, the context of somebody who’s been working on it for a while.

Due to the Corona pandemic Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires celebrated the release of the album with a truly excellent live-streamed show from the empty Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville, available now for download. 👇

Also due to the Corona pandemic the album tour has been postponed a year. I have a ticket for the show in Oslo and I can’t wait to see it.

Track list:

  • What’ve I done to Help
  • Dreamsicle
  • Only Children
  • Overseas
  • Running with Our Eyes Closed
  • River
  • Be Afraid
  • St. Peter’s Autograph
  • It Gets Easier
  • Letting You Go

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