Jason Isbell And The 400
Jason Isbell and his band The 400 return with an album encapsulating what it means to be human, with songs exploring childhood, parenthood, past struggles and future growth.
The singer-songwriter has much to celebrate — he is a multiple Grammy-award winner, his last two albums both having made it to the Top 20 in the UK, and right up there at the top of the US charts. Yet Reunions shows a humble musician, a man reflecting on his past and working on his future, his drive and passion for his music crystal clear in the ten songs his album consists of.
The album kicks off with the hauntingly-beautiful What’ve I Done To Help. It has an echoing, ghostly ring to it, while still maintaining an upbeat rhythm, the various musical instruments building up layers of atmosphere as the song progresses. I could easily see this song being played at a festival. It has all the elements of storytelling in the verses, and the chorus is catchy and punchy, while displaying a lingering, a longing for answers.
The first verse begins with lyrics that I believe describe the feeling of the entire album: “I thought I was alone in the world, until my memories gathered round me in the night.” This introduces the complexities that the album possesses. By listening to Reunions, you’re going on a journey, exploring tragedy and triumph, and all things in-between.
Letting You Go is also a brilliant way to conclude the album. Looking towards a future, this is definitely a song that will resonate for fathers everywhere, as it involves the bittersweet feeling of letting a child flee the nest. The chorus of “Being your daddy comes natural, the roses just know how to grow, it’s easy to see that you’ll get where you’re going, but the hard part is letting you go” is soothing, almost in a nursery-rhyme way, and hits a feeling that is widely shared. I love the last line, which imagines the daughter getting married: “but the best I can do is to let myself trust that you know who’ll be strong enough to carry your heart.” There’s a real sense of acceptance here, and of that strong father-daughter relationship.
There is plenty to take from this album. It is very conscious of emotion — growth, fear, but also hope and empowerment. It is strong, powerful, and testament to the hard work of Isbell and his band.
And I love the diversity of the album. Only Children is another ghostly song, the backing vocals stunningly chilling. Yet there are songs like Be Afraid which make you want you to go out and take the world by storm, with the chorus “Be afraid, be very afraid, but do it anyway”. This acknowledges fear while rooting for you to defy the odds regardless. St. Peter’s Autograph is touching, stripped back and heartfelt, acknowledging grief and extending a hand to help, a shoulder to cry on. Meanwhile, It Gets Easier shows the power of growth and recovery, and of reaching a place where your present self can offer advice to your younger self.
If like myself you had previously never listened to Jason Isbell And The 400, then Reunions would be a great place to start. Joined by his wife Amanda Shires, who also plays in the band, Isbell performed a livestream concert for on Friday May 15 to celebrate ‘Reunions.’ Taking fans away from COVID-19 temporarily with live song, the concert reiterates the power of music to unite at a time of uncertainty, which is exactly what we all need at this time, and exactly what this album offers in abundance.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent