You’ll hear folks say that “so-and-so lost their edge when they sobered up” in reference to some artist, writer, or musician who got straight. Not so with Jason Isbell. He was laying the tracks for Southeastern down about the time he’d been sober for a year – and the album resounds with a power and clarity that matches (if not surpasses) the best work he’s ever done.
Though there are some plugged-in moments, much of Southeastern is dominated by Isbell and his acoustic guitar. Producer Dave Cobb lets the tunes breathe: there isn’t one more note played than is necessary anywhere on this album. But don’t mistake the mainly-acoustic setting and focused arrangements as lacking power. “Elephant” is just the man and his Martin (with a touch of Derry deBorja’s keys here and there) but it’s a song about cancer that’ll make your soul ache to its core; the violence of “Live Oak” is complicated by the woman who is woven into the story; and “Cover Me Up” is jam-packed with need/want/love and come-clean Isbellisms:
Girl, leave your boots by the bed we ain’t leaving this room
‘Til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom
Lord, lord, lord … and there’s nothing of the braggart or swaggerer in those words – it’s a statement of fact, uttered by a man looking a woman in the eye.
Click HERE to read the conclusion of my Jason Isbell review on Jambands.com