04. Jason Isbell - Southeastern
Jason Isbell always could write an amazing song. He proved it during his stint with the Drive-By Truckers (an aside: my mom and brother hated DBT when they opened for Tom Petty. I, however, enjoyed their set very much). But with his two albums with The 400 Unit, his songs were hit & miss. He’ll tell you today that his addiction to alcohol was to blame. Sober and focused, Isbell put out this proper solo album: a stripped-down country record of stories. Singer/songwriter material. Americana, if you will. These songs lack the epic sweep of “Decoration Day” or the full band beauty of “Alabama Pines.” What are they? A man and his guitar and lyrical narratives without peer this year. “Cover Me Up” is about redemption, vis a vis two lovers in a winter’s cabin (“So go leave your boots by the bed, we ain’t leaving this room/ til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom./ It’s cold in this house and I ain’t goin out to chop wood./ so cover me up, and know you’re enough to use me for good”). “Different Days” shows all the self-awareness of the recovered addict and all the frailty they’d rather not admit. Every song is so tight and focused lyrically. There’s nothing innovative on this album. It’s all about execution. There are a couple of tracks that get too big, too expansive with different instruments, too loud. But apart from that the focus leads to impressive execution. I think I said earlier in this list that Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” was the best country song I’ve heard in decades. Jason Isbell’s “Elephant” gives that song a run for its money; it’s the most honest depiction of losing a friend to cancer that I can ever remember hearing. This album kills me, and I returned to it time and time again.
Originally Posted by Delano
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