Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions

Album Review | Thirty Tigers | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Jason Isbell returns with his regular band the 400 Unit and ten new songs, each of which further demonstrate Isbell’s credentials as one of the finest songwriters on the scene today. Using his own success and how to deal with it as a starting point, Isbell takes a deep look into his own troubled past, his relationships and memories of childhood, in an almost cathartic, self probing manner. “What’ve I Done to Help?” he asks, it being the burning question here and a question often repeated to the point of distraction, a plea for salvation perhaps, with even David Crosby on the team providing those almost subliminal harmonies. Isbell’s songs are believable, poignant and sometimes painful in their honesty, such as “Dreamsicle”, which looks at how young people deal with being uprooted due to parental conflict.

Having a long hard look at oneself can be difficult even at the best of times, but having to confront one’s demons with marital issues, a young child to take care of and the impending doom of a pandemic, not to mention alcoholism, just intensifies the situation. To a songwriter of Isbell’s standard, such conditions seem to move the work to another level of intensity. Lines are delivered with great conviction, such as the opening line of “Overseas”, ‘Used to be a ghost town, But even the ghosts got out’. A known Dylan enthusiast (to put it mildly), his Bobness gets a mention in the haunting “Only Children”, which provides Isbell with extra marks for rhyming ‘Dylan’ with ‘children’, whilst “River” provides us with an almost perfect metaphor for a faithful soulmate. Perhaps the album’s highlight though is the utterly compelling “St Peter’s Autograph”, a song written for Amanda Shires after the death of her friend Neal Casal; Guy Clark and Townes standard songwriting right there.

Choice Track: St Peter’s Autograph (NSV 501)