(Lightning Rod Records)
Alexander Beaufort Meek wrote Alabama’s first motto ‘Here We Rest’ in his 1842 essay outlining the history of the state. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s latest disc—Here We Rest—deals with changing times in Muscle Shoals.
“The mood here has darkened considerably,” Isbell stated. “There is a real culture around Muscle Shoals, Florence and Sheffield of family, of people taking care of their own. When people lose their ability to do that, their sense of self dissolves. It has a devastating effect on personal relationships, and mine were not immune.”
These 11 songs, mostly acoustic country-soul, capture a resonating sadness from each character in every track. This is the second collection from Isbell and the 400 Unit. The group is keyboardist Derry deBorja, guitarist Browan Lollar, bassist Jimbo Hart and drummer Chad Gamble. Isbell’s guitar prowess remains downplayed on these tunes as if he wanted song structure to remain the focus of attention.
The album opens with the quiet “Alabama Pines”. A wandering narrator in this tune indicates some memories prove hard to live with during a lonely era. “Go It Alone” stands as the only real electric rocker on this collection and reminds how potent Isbell’s grittier material sounds. “We’ve Met” tells a memorable love story that anyone can really identify with if they listen to the song.
“Codeine” retains a back porch jam element with the fiddle weaving an elusive thread through this story of addiction. In “Stopping By”, a melodic diamond, Isbell sings about someone stopping by unannounced on an old lover in Atlanta. “How did your life turn out ?” he asks. “Daisy Mae”, one of this writer’s favorites from this collection, contends as what you might call a perfect song.
“The Ballad of Nobeard” counts as an accordion instrumental. “Never Could Believe” contains a homespun ‘The Band’ vibe in its lighthearted sentiment even as Isbell sings “Never could believe a word that came from her mouth. “Heart On A String” emerges as a modern day soul classic. “Save It For Sunday” counts as one of Isbell’s saddest songs. In “Tour of Duty” Isbell writes about a soldier home from war, and his life—and everyone else’s—has changed in his absence.
Isbell described his motivation behind these songs: "When you come from Alabama, that country soul music is in the water. I've always loved it and been proud of it, but there's always been this sense of proving that you were capable of more than just that. If I was going to create an album that gave listeners a sense of the place, I felt it was important to let the songs go there if they wanted to."
Here We Rest verifies Jason Isbell exists as one of this generation’s finest songwriters.