“Did you ever love a woman with a death wish? Something in her eyes, like flipping off a light switch. Everybody dies, but you gotta find a reason to carry on.”…. Well, come on in Jason Isbell, have a seat and thanks for penetrating our mind and soul immediately in the opening lines of your new album!
It’s been around three years after their latest studio album Reunions and now Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit have returned with a new record called Weathervanes. Reunions made it album of the year in my list then in 2020 and therefore needless to say how anxious I was for this new release.
All musicians in the 400 Unit are top-notch and they exactly know what they need to bring in the sound to complete it. But we can without a doubt say that all and everything in this band, and the music it creates, is about mister Isbell. For many the man has more and more reached a certain icon status with each release over the years. Fans and critics are full of praise on his level of song and lyrics writing. Some call him the modern Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Paul Simon. Although those are big shoes to fill, you can count me in that camp of appraisal.
There are levels to the game and only the greats perform at their best in all of them. Where the likes of Stephen King and Clive Barker are able to paint a scary realistic horror-scene within a couple of sentences, Isbell needs only a few combinations of words to make you feel you know everything of a person: past, present and future. Perhaps it’s only possible to have a picture painted immediately when somethings are waiting inside of you to resonate? “ I decorate time with words” is how the man describes his way of working.
On different levels Isbell writes about people and life, autobiographical and fictional and a bit of both. Confessional at times. Sometimes reminiscing about his upbringing or about persons that where part somewhere and somehow in his life, deceased (in jail or on a bathroom floor) or still alive. Sometimes he or the narrator sings about men, often about ladies. His years of drug and alcohol abuse and the recent years where he sobered up find their way back in the stories. His wife and daughter always have a special place in there as well. And then there’s his vocals and how smooth he finds his way on the guitars (acoustic, electric, baritone and slide). Alternating between warm, energetic, full of melancholy, rocking, bluesy, country, and raw. Always with his heart and soul.
Everything mentioned above comes together in a result of thirteen marvelous songs. The four singles Death Wish, Cast Iron Skillet, Save the World and Middle of the Morning were already a forecast of what to expect. To me they are personal highlights and the core of this album. For instance, the level of metaphor in Cast Iron Skillet is off the hook. We all grew up with passed on convictions and beliefs that we saw as truths to live by. As innocent as “don’t walk where you can’t see your feet” to the biggest global problems as murder and racism. Save the World is a beautiful vulnerable song which deals about gun violence in school-shootings and the paralyzing fear parents have when they must send their kid to school soon.
Other songs to me that stand out are King of Oklahoma, When we were Close, Volunteer, White Beretta and album closer the Beatlesque Miles. “What’s the difference between a breakdown and a breakthrough?” Weathervanes turned out a different album than Reunions. In length and in more variations in sound, ranging from singer-songwriter, alternative country, pop, rock and folk. The new album also needed more time to sink in. But since it does, I cannot not play these songs over and over without discovering new sounds, words, meanings and layers. Isbell and co again outdid themselves and Weathervanes will take the lead in many year lists worldwide. This is musical champions league. Essential.