In late 2005, I was home listening to an album by a band I had recently discovered called the “Drive-By Truckers” I enjoyed their raucous and rowdy southern rock sound. It wasn’t until I heard:,
“You want to grow up to paint houses like me,
A trailer in my yard till you’re 23.
You want to feel old after 42 years,
Keep dropping the hammer and grinding the gears.
Well, I used to go out in a Mustang,
A 302 Mach One in green.
Me and your Mama made you in the back
And I sold it to buy her a ring.”
. . . come through my speakers that I immediately sat up and took notice. This sounded nothing like any of the other Drive -By Trucker songs that I had previously listened to.
I was instantly on a quest to find out who this new singer was. His voice, so clear and smooth, the song, sang with such heart, I knew I was listening to something special. I would soon come to discover the greatness of Jason Isbell.
Although I was soon disappointed in the news he would be leaving the Truckers after only three albums and eight songs,I was left with the hope that Jason would begin a successful solo career because I knew, without a doubt, I needed to hear more from this talented musician and songwriter.
Jason’s first four solo albums (which include a terrific live album) were all full of great rock songs along with heartfelt ballads I thoroughly enjoyed. But it wasn’t until fall of last year when Gracey emailed me a link to a YouTube clip of Jason singing his song “Elephant” off his new CD. That song punched me in the gut, much in the way I felt the first time hearing his early work did. To hear those heart wrenching lines:
“Surrounded by her family I saw that she was dying alone.”
“There’s one thing that’s real clear to me,
No one dies with dignity.
We just try to ignore the elephant somehow”
I was blown away. I immediately thought that song may possibly be the best love song I’ve ever heard. To most people the idea of a love song represents the early stages of a relationship, you know, butterflies and puppy love feelings you hear about on today’s country radio. To me, real love comes from the reality of life, such as when someone is losing a battle with terminal cancer and the ones who truly love that person stands beside them, even after they are gone. This song alone is enough to make “Southeastern”stand on its own merit.
I knew I had to have this album.
The opening track “Cover Me Up” may be one of Jason’s finest vocal performances to date as he belts out the line,
“Days when we raged
We flew off the page.
Such damage was done”.
You can feel the passion in this song as Jason sings about his giving up drinking and how the love of a good woman can help turn all that around.
Track 2, “Stockholm,” is a wonderfully crafted song that perfectly blends the harmonious voices of Jason and Kim Richey. Track 3 “Traveling Alone” is a song about longing to find someone to walk through this world with. The heartfelt way in which Jason delivers this song proves he is a true artist, unabashed by his own deep feelings. With lines like
“Damn near straggled by my appetite,
Ybor city on a Friday night.
Couldn’t even stand up right.
So high the street girls wouldn’t take my pay,
She said “Come see me on a better day,”
She just danced away.”
. . . it’s easy to see why Jason is considered one of today’s finest songwriters.
Track 5 “Flying Over Water”, one of the edgier sounding songs on this album, is a great song that has to be heard to be truly appreciated. Track 6 “Different Days” is personally my favorite on this album, with so many brilliant lines in this song. Most other songwriters who hear this song may just want to quit for good.
“And the story’s only mine to live and die with
And the answer’s only mine to come across.
But the ghosts that I got scared and I got high with,
Look a little lost.
Ten years ago I might’ve thought I didn’t have the right,
To say the things an outlaw wouldn’t say.
But those were different days”
To put it simply, brilliant.
Track 7 “Live Oak” – How many times can I use the word brilliant before it becomes diluted? This song about a man with a checkered past during the Civil War days who finds the love of a woman only to have his past come back to haunt him.
“There’s a man who walks beside me
He is who I used to be.
And I wonder if she sees him
And confuses him with me.”
. . . is such an intriguing line and it sets up this song so well.
Track 8, “Songs That She Sang in the Shower” begins with a relationship ending in a car ride home right after being punched in the face. This song has so many incredible insightful lyrics such as
“In a room, by myself, looks like I’m here with a guy that I judge worse than anyone else.
So I pace, and I pray, and I repeat the mantras that might keep me clean for the day.”
Track 9 “South of Wales” – The way the acoustic guitar accompanies the fiddle in damn near perfect symmetry is enough to raise the hair on your arms. Wonderful Track.
Track 10 “Super 8” – The most rocking song on this album, this one is about a late night party in a Super 8 motel that quickly takes bad turn due to one very pissed off man. I have to agree with Jason on this one, I don’t want to die in a Super 8 motel either.
Another great song, “Yvette” (Track 11), could be the one song on this album that very well may grab you to your core. A song about a young man in high school watching a young girl in his class who he knows is being abused by her father and decides to do something about it. The line:
“I may not be a man yet, but your father will never be.
So I load up my Weatherby, and I let out my breath
And I couple with death”
. . .will chill you to the bone. I hope to believe that many would feel the same when it comes to people who abuse children.
The final track on this album, “Relatively Easy,” is the perfect song to end on, A song that to me seems to be flowing with redemption, personal responsibility as well as acceptance that sometimes we should allow ourselves to see that maybe we don’t have it quite as bad as we may think. My favorite line in this song is:
“I broke the law boys, shooting out the windows of my loft boys.
When they picked me up I made a big noise,
Everything to blame except my mind.”
Very few times in my life have I been completely consumed by another artist, but “Southeastern” is by far the best album I’ve heard in many, many years and I would not hesitate to claim, in my own personal opinion, for it to be one of the greatest albums of all time.