Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit-Here We Rest
Record Label: Lightning Rod Records
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Thanks to TV, the Internet and other factors, many of the most popular artists today, even here in Europe, come from the US of A. The same goes for music styles, be it R'n'B, Hip Hop or Rock. One genre however that is deeply rooted in American history and tradition has never made it past the tired stereotypes of cowboy hats and honky tonk: Country in all its forms never caught on in the old world. Why? I don't know and probably never will. It is a shame though, having so many great and talented artists, Europeans are truly missing out.
One of the best artists using many of country's best elements is probably a rather unknown young man from Alabama: Jason Isbell. In 2001 Isbell joined the Southern Rock group, The Drive-by Truckers who at that point were touring in support for their breakthrough record Southern Rock Opera. Isbell remained with the band for six years and the few songs he contributed to three of the bands records still stand out as some of their best, above all "Goddamn Lonely Love", one of the best love songs of all time.
After leaving the band in 2006, Isbell started his solo career with the good, but overall somewhat disappointing Sirens of the Ditch in 2007. Soon realizing that he actually missed having a whole band to work with, Isbell recruited musicians from his home state, most notably from the muscle shoals and formed The 400 Unit to support him on tour and in the studio.
Named after the psychiatric wing in his home town hospital, The 400 Unit invigorated Isbell once more, and 2009's self titled album showed Isbell at his best.
Expectations thus were high for the next album and neither Isbell nor his band disappointed fans when they released Here We Rest in 2011, a collection of 11 expertly crafted jewels, somewhere between country and southern rock.
The album starts with the heart warming country ballad Alabama Pines in which Isbell reflects on the hard task of rekindling relationships after being away for a long time and how hard it is to feel you're a stranger in a place you used to call home.
If we pass through on a Sunday, better make a stop at Wayne's. / It's the only open liquor store north, and I can't stand the pain / of being by myself without a little help on a Sunday afternoon. Sentiments everyone who has been away from the place they grew up in can relate to, whether the are musicians or not, Europeans or Americans.
The following 'Go It Alone' owes much to Isbells engagement with the Truckers, as it is a southern rock infused song about the discrepancies between what one might imagine ones life to be and the harsh reality of what life is really like.
It's realizing just how close you've come to death./ And rearranging accordingly.
I'm realizing what I've lost and what I've left/ And taking it home to go it alone again.
And while all of Isbell's songs are mostly on the sad side if things, he never ever resorts to crying about how hard life is. His songs are more like little pieces of observant journalism, depicting sad stories with enough distance not to get caught up in them, but involved enough to make the user either feel for the narrator or associate with him.
Another stand out track on a record filled with great songs is “Stopping By” the story of a young man that rekindles his relationship with a father that had been absent for too long. Again more observing than accusing, Isbell's lyrics hit hard while the band masterfully underscores the lyrics with emotionally involving and beautiful country-soul.
All in all, Here We Rest is a masterfully crafted record that displays Isbells song writing genius at its best, accompanied by a superb background band.
Any fan of folk, rock or country should find something to love on this record.
And even if you are not a fan of any of these genres, have a listen, Isbell's soft and gentle voice and his expert storytelling are a treat for everyone. Here We Rest stands as one of the best records of 2011 and definitely one of as the most overlooked.