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4.7 out of 5 stars83
4.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 December 2013
Although I'm sorry Jason Isbell left Drive By Truckers - I think both parties lost something on that deal - it's perfectly understandable when his subsequent output is considered. He must have been positively bursting with all the songs he had waiting to be let out when at best he only managed three or four per album with the Truckers. Since they released their last album, Isbell has released at least three, and his latest, Southeastern, is about his best.

The songs and music cover a variety of subjects and run the gamut of emotions from sad to totally desolate, Isbell apparently channeling Leonard Cohen in that respect, with some quiet and contemplative ballads alongside more lively rockers, though there's no AC/DC here.

Traveling Alone opens with the most plaintive fiddle ever, Amanda Shires apparently strangling the notes out of her instrument, and as she continues to squeeze melancholy from its pores Isbell's voice and words match the ongoing mood. Elephant, the following track, hardly lifts the veil, being about the big C, and features the bitter line "No one dies with dignity".

Songs That She Sang In The Shower, one of a number of songs in a pleasing 3/4 time, is the first of a couple of songs where the singer is on the wrong end of a beating, opening with a smack in the eye which requires application of a steak, and progressing to his significant other walking out as a consequence, prompting his reflection on her musical repertoire whilst showering. The second song in which he receives a beating is Super 8, the chorus of which, "Don't want to die in a Super 8 motel", reminded me of a stay in Lafayette.

The collection ends with Relatively Easy, in which Simon and Garfunkel meet the E Street Band for another contemplation of loneliness.

Since buying the record I've played it constantly, and it's one that rewards repeated listening, with something new noticed every time, about the music or the words. Really, really excellent.
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At long last Jason Isbell has delivered that great classic album that he always threatened to make. From his days as a key component in the Deep South's best band the Drive By Truckers to his excellent debut "Sirens of the Ditch", Isbell has produced songs of the highest quality and delivery. Yet even die hard Isbell supporters began to lose faith in later albums culminating with the mixed bag of 2011's "Here we rest" which languishes on this reviewers I Pod like an abandoned prisoner with only "Alabama Pines" allowed out in the exercise yard. The new album "Southeastern" is the product of Isbell going through recovery and cleaning up his act on the Jack Daniels front. More importantly he has found a soulmate and fell in love with musician Amanda Shires who plays on this album (his previous marriage to the DBTs Shonna Tucker fell apart and contributed to his departure from the band). It appears that cupid's intervention has done him a power of good since the fog that enveloped "Here we rest" has lifted and every song on this record basks in radiant clarity. Isbell's often-underplayed strength has been his ear for a classic ballad including stunners like "Dress Blues". On "Southeastern" they populate the album in abundance, not least "Cover me up" a tough song about addictions and passion with has nice Beatles like undercurrent melody. The line "girl leave your boots by the bed, we ain't leaving this room 'til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom." is classic. What is also noticeable is how much his voice has improved. The good ole Southern twang is still there but its now more mainstream American if that makes sense and it works. The pace picks up with the brilliant uplifting piano driven "Stockholm" where the Kim Richey backing vocals drives this lovely alt country song with a slight tinge of the music of his friend Ryan Adams. The quality barometer does not drop throughout the whole album so let us single out some songs for special attention. Firstly "Travelling alone" is classic old school country and will wear out jukebox needles in bars across the mid west. Even better is the album standout "Elephant". Honestly you should sectioned if you don't seek this one out at once. It tells a tale of a devastating tale of a couple dealing with cancer that is the elephant in the room in a relationship that is fading away. At one point Isbell sings with aching poignancy that "When she was drunk she made cancer jokes/she made up her own Doctors notes/surrounded by her family I saw she was dying alone". It is brilliant and will send Isbell's songwriting credentials to the top of the premier division.

More songs which have immediate appeal include the sauntering guitar acoustics of the lovely "Different Day", the blustery rocker "Flying over water" that features guitar solo so stinging it almost hurts and the punchy Southern honky tonk rock of "Super 8" which would have fitted nicely into "Exile on Main Street". But again it is an acoustic song that demands attention namely "Song she sang in the shower" which references Pink Floyd's "Wish you were here" and will break hearts when played across the radio waves of country music stations. Somehow he matches it with "New south Wales" with Shires adding an plaintive fiddle backdrop melting together with in Isbell's precise guitar picking. The serious business album concludes with the bluesy "Yvette" with a great Isbell's vocal and the gorgeous closer "Relatively Easy" gives the album an optimistic acoustic ending

Jason Isbell's solo albums to date have occasionally touched the highs of his Drive By Truckers songs where at a precocious age he was writing unimpeachable songs like "Goddamn lonely love" and the great Southern anthem "Oufit". With "Southeastern" he moves from solid to brilliant. It is a redemptive album full of catharsis and pain but with some fun along way. It is a bit like life in that regard but predominantly a soundtrack to everyday heartaches. Isbell is now 34 and ruefully reflected in a recent interview to the New York Times that fame came far too early in Drive by Truckers days and he wasn't ready for it. With the release of "Southeastern" there is a growing vibe in the US at the moment that this album may represent a significant turning point that demands 50 states attention. How many country singers get a full-blown profile in the Wall Street Journal? Thus perhaps Isbell's new found maturity has arrived at precisely the right time since it looks like fame is about to knock loudly at his door again.
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I think this is something rather special. This was an almost random selection for me on a vague recommendation and it turned out to be an outstanding album of real quality, with fine songs and excellent performances.

The album has a feel of singer-songwriter about it. Even though there is some lovely support work from a band and some other singers in places (including the very good Kim Richey), the real impact is from Jason Isbell's fine singing and guitar work. There is a melancholy air over the album, with the songs dealing with loneliness, broken relationships, human flaws and the like. This sounds very miserable but isn't; Isbell creates lovely singable melodies with excellent arrangements and production, and a variety of tones from solo voice and guitar to full rock band sound. It is certainly often poignant and touching but somehow never depressing.

What makes this quite exceptionally good, though, is Isbell's lyrics, in my view. He tells stories and conjures emotional states with exceptional depth and it gives the songs real impact. This is at its most raw in Elephant, a stunning song about a friend dying of cancer. There are a lot of great lines in it, like "Surrounded by family, I saw that she was dying alone..." I have had far more experience of loved ones dying of cancer than any one person ought and, among the euphemism and untruth the living comfort themselves with, it is very unusual to find anyone with the perceptiveness and insight to see the truth and the courage to speak it. I think it's a remarkable song, and Isbell brings a similar level of thoughtfulness and honesty to many of the songs on this album.

It is always a joy to discover new music of this quality, and I will certainly be listening to Jason Isbell's back-catalogue very soon. For now, I'm listening to this album repeatedly and getting more out of it each time. I'd recommend this very warmly to anyone who likes beautiful, thoughtful and intelligent songs.
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This is my first venture into Jason Isbell's solo work, after being a fan of his old band, Drive By Truckers, for some years, so I was struck by the difference in the music and also how much his writing has evolved over the years. Listening to it carefully, it is quite apparent that Jason has been through a lot to be able to write as personal and powerfully honest an album as "Southeastern" is and a little bit of research revealed a battle with alcoholism and a history of relationship difficulties, the understanding of which gives the album a greater context. This work doesn't specifically document these points in his life, it more sees Isbell attempting to live his life after beating addiction and coming to terms with his mistakes and frailties. It has a very introspective, personal feel to the album, but it stops short of being gloomy; it's not the kind of record that is going to make you want to turn to the bottle yourself.

There are many highlights to be enjoyed here (although I'm not sure if enjoyed is an appropriate term). The album begins with one of the best tracks, with "Cover Me Up" and Isbell's clear, southern-tinged voice expressing his vulnerability beautifully. The appealing "Stockholm" has the air of one of Ryan Adams' more mainstream compositions and the gentle country tones of "Travelling Alone" suit the weariness of the lyrics perfectly. "Elephant" is, for me, undoubtedly the greatest song on the album, written about a friend who was dying of cancer and the sheer humanity expressed is enough to bring a lump to the throat and so "Flying Over Water", a superior country-rock piece, is a welcome musically uplifting punch in the gut, albeit with rather melancholy lyrics. "Yvette", the heartbreaking story of a classmate going through sexual abuse at home, is my last pick of this release and the detail and emotion invested into this track means that it is truly superb; it rivals "Elephant" as the album's greatest accomplishment.

This album isn't a revolutionary piece, but it's definitely very good indeed. There isn't anything thematically on "Southeastern" that hasn't been said elsewhere previously and the music doesn't take this listener to any places he hasn't been before either, but there is something rather wonderful about Isbell's latest that makes it undeniably brilliant; it is so well written, especially the lyrical content, and so very beautifully performed that it is impossible to listen to and not be anything other then both impressed and moved. In fact, as accomplished as the music is, without the brilliance of the lyrics, "Southeastern" could easily have been a much lesser album. I'm not sure it's quite the classic album, overall, that I've read other reviewers say it is, but its excellence is without question and there are a handful of songs on this album that make it a worthy addition to any serious music lover's collection.
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on 12 October 2013
Having admired (rather than loved) much of DBT's records and some of the solo work that emanates from the band I was swayed to try out the new album by metacritic's rating. I was prepared to be disappointed. I was wrong. This is a flawless record with honest emotional connection throughout. A triumph.
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on 10 August 2013
Discovering Jason when he joined my all time favourite band, Drive-by Truckers, I realised(like everyone else) the man was a genius songwriter. I was gutted when he left the Truckers, but the good news is he continues to produce amazing music album after album.
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on 14 January 2014
My first Jason Isbell album having enjoyed his songs when in Drive-By Truckers. This is the best album I have heard released in 2013. Great songs that I'm enjoying more with each hearing. Not the easiest of subject matter; recovering from alcoholism, suicide, cancer, a man with a murderous past, bereavement and so on but lyrically beautiful and poignant all the same. Rocks out a wee bit on Super 8 but generally a more gentle and restrained album. Wonderful.
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on 7 January 2015
Very open lyrics complement the soft Nashville sound of this album.

Live Oak is a classic vulnerable song that makes you stop and listen.

I bit of lead guitar livens it up but not too much, just a few low riffs.

Shame there is one blatant use of f****** in song 4 because it prevent general open play around the house. But there again he was singing about someone dying of Cancer so I suppose that deserves a big fat f*******
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on 11 November 2013
This is a sublime album. Beautifully crafted, gorgeous melodies, heartbreaking lyrics. You will listen to this again and again - it has a timeless quality
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on 13 September 2015
It is rare that I buy an album on a whim by an artist I must admit to never having heard of and like it quite as much as this album. This is a classic, and I don't use those words lightly.

(It was recommended to me by Spotify as I'm a fan of Glen Hansard. Well, the similarities are there but not blindingly obvious I must say)

There is something about this album that just comes together on all fronts. The voice is perfect, the tunes and the musicianship are just cracking, and the lyrics - whether the icing on the cake or the foundations on which everything else sits - are stunning. Given the subject matter of a number of the songs (cancer, domestic abuse, alcoholism, break ups) this could be a very depressing listen and I have other albums that fall into that category. However this album never comes across as depressing - heartwrenching yes but I can, and do, listen to it again and again. And again.

Very clever stuff indeed and I can't wait to discover more by Mr Isbell ...
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