Album of the Week: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, 'Reunions'

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, 'Reunions'
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, 'Reunions' (Southeastern Records / Thirty Tigers)

Jason Isbell's new album Reunions is an intimate alt-country masterpiece that builds upon the foundations of the genre. Like Lucinda Williams' self-titled album and Steve Earle's El Corazon, Isbell created an album saturated with authenticity and emotion. Joined again by The 400 Unit and producer Dave Cobb, Reunions delves into familiar themes of sobriety and relationships that have been touchstones of his work since the critically acclaimed, "Southeastern."

The album opens with an intense 6 minutes and 40 seconds of repentance featuring David Crosby and Jay Buchanan. On "What've I Done To Help," Isbell repeats "what've I done to help but not myself?" as he expresses both acceptance and regret for the past. You hear that the tension between the past and present on songs like "Dreamsicle" and "Only Children," which paint pictures of the trials of being a child and young adult trying to decode the surrounding world.

The quieter but equally thought-provoking track, "St. Peter's Autograph" feels timely as Isbell sings "we're all struggling with the world on fire, and the fear we're taught." Few albums can prophesize the sentiment of the near future, but Reunions is a timely companion in a world of social distancing. Like the album cover depicts, alone on the horizon, Isbell reunites with his demons on his own terms. One of the best illustrations of his self-awareness comes with "It Gets Easier," as he gives advice for those who might wonder if his journey with sobriety has been easy. He sings, "It gets easier, but it never gets easy, I can say it's all worth it."

While the highlights of Reunions come from the steadily paced ballads, Isbell takes time exercise his love for country rock. Midway through the album comes riff laden changes on "Overseas" and "Running With Our Eyes Closed." This is not the Nashville sound re-imagined, it is influenced by classic rock with an unapologetic shimmer that conjure up influences from Mark Knopfler to Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Jason Isbell and The 400 Units' new album Reunions is out now on Southeastern Records.

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