Jason Isbell has come a long way. When he started out nearly two decades ago, he was the hard-drinking young-gun guitarist playing dive bars with Drive-By Truckers (which is where I first saw him, back in the band’s Southern Rock Opera era). These days, he’s older and wiser. Cooler and calmer. He’s embraced sobriety, marriage and fatherhood — all of which have also helped him mature into one of the most compelling and evocative singer-songwriters of his generation. That’s been made abundantly clear on his more recent Grammy-winning albums. And it certainly hasn’t changed on his seventh studio set Reunions, which is also his fourth with superstar producer Dave Cobb. Continuing to follow the therapeutic and personally revealing trail he’s been on for several years, these songs find Isbell once again sifting the ashes of his past, confronting and communing with a cast of ghosts and personal demons awaiting artistic exorcism. Not surprisingly, Reunions is also quieter, softer, more melodic and sleeker than some previous outings, focusing on hushed ballads, supple grooves and jangly Americana at the expense of the rangy, raw-boned roots-rockers of Isbell’s misspent youth. If I’m being honest, I miss those days and those songs a bit — I would like Reunions a little more if he cranked the volume, the tempo and the energy a little higher a little more often. But as he’s repeatedly shown, Isbell is more committed personal growth than crowdpleasing nostalgia. And who can blame him? As the poised, polished and powerful Reunions makes clear, he’s in it for the long haul.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and musician Jason Isbell and his band The 400 Unit will release their highly anticipated new album, Reunions. Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb and recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio A, the album features 10 new songs written by Isbell. Reunions is Isbell’s seventh full-length studio album and the fourth released with his band, The 400 Unit: Derry deBorja (piano, keyboard, organ, omnichord), Chad Gamble (drums, tambourine), Jimbo Hart (bass), Amanda Shires (fiddle) and Sadler Vaden (acoustic guitar, electric guitar). The new album also includes background vocals from special guests David Crosby (Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Byrds) and Jay Buchanan (Rival Sons). Of the release, Isbell shares, “There are a lot of ghosts on this album. Sometimes the songs are about the ghosts of people who aren’t around anymore, but they’re also about who I used to be, the ghost of myself. I found myself writing songs that I wanted to write 15 years ago, but in those days, I hadn’t written enough songs to know how to do it yet. Just now have I been able to pull it off to my own satisfaction. In that sense it’s a reunion with the me I was back then.”