The ninth studio album created and released by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, entitled Weathervanes, has captivated his fans in a new and exciting way. It can only be described as “brutally beautiful” and their “strongest album to date,” as Rolling Stone magazine described it.
The songs that stem from this album do not deal with anything lightly. It attacks head-on feelings of regret, anger, and fear. There’s an apparent struggle with making bad judgments and dealing with the consequences.
This album was put forth without the intent to cheer anyone up but rather to address and bring out those hurt and pained emotions. And it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time when dealing with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass shootings, and struggles with addiction.
The King of Americana
Southeastern 10 was the breakout album for Isbell and his group, demonstrating his lyrical mastery and evolving his status within the rock genre. His earlier album clearly showed his ability to use the studio space, but you can see the growth in Weathervanes. Country and folk elements are still fully apparent in this more rock-feel album.
With these traditional styles of music, there’s no mistaking that Isbell and The 400 Unit have established themselves well in the Americana music realm. A mix of diversity, lyrical and rhythmic repetition with just a hint of influence from rock ‘n’ roll can be heard in almost every song.
Isbell masters his storytelling through song and tackles some pretty serious topics within Weathervanes, so he’s not hiding behind the music; he’s putting it all out in the open. In the breakdown of each song of the album, Isbell has developed a reputation for creating beauty in a brutal atmosphere with expertly crafted lyrics and musicality.
- “Death Wish” – the lyrics bring out a mind that doesn’t settle, and this first song has more elements of rock. The emotions of grief and dealing with death come out well in the lyrics, “Everybody dies, but you gotta find a reason to carry on.”
- “King of Oklahoma” – the chorus in this song drives the feeling in this song about a blue-collar man dealing with addiction and on the brink of losing his wife and kids. With lyrics from the narrative, “by morning I won’t feel no pain,” – it brings out the descent into feeling numb, showing how desensitized we are and how the mental and physical intertwine. It perfectly exemplifies Isbell’s storytelling with his “brutally beautiful” writing.
- “Strawberry Woman” – folk, country, and rock elements are all found in this gem of a song. It’s a love story, but also so much more than that, going beyond the simplicity with lyrics like “There’s a young man crying in a cowboy hat.”
- “Middle of the Morning” – the song is clearly about the lockdown and the uneasiness of being isolated during the pandemic, and he even gives the virus a face and a voice with lyrics that say, “I know you’re scared of me / I can see it in your face.” There are even instruments like the theremin to give the song a more haunting quality.
- “Save the World” – is about classroom shootings; this song is about the fear the narrator feels about there being shooters everywhere he goes. Isbell did a great job with the lyrics and music here to craft something relevant and speaks to what is troubling the world today. Feeling more rock and less folk/country, the song conveys a powerful message, so it will be one everyone will be working on getting TikTok copyrights and showcasing this masterfully solid track.
- “If You Insist” – the music makes expert use of the drums in this song, bringing out heavier moments and contrasting the lighter sides of the message.
- “Cast Iron Skillet” – this song is very country-forward, with a great story from Isbell and his excellent writing, and it tackles the aspect of interracial marriage with the lyrics “Jamie found a boyfriend/ With smiling eyes and dark skin /And her daddy never spoke another word to her again.” It also mentions the album title within the song, showcasing it as a leading single.
- “When We Were Close” – the tribute song is about a long-time friend of Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, who died in 2020. There’s some survivor guilt apparent, and it drips with a lot of genuine grief, even as a more rock-forward song.
- “Volunteer” – it sounds like it could be a story about Isbell himself, but he put elements of dreaming of other lives in it as well. The question is whether it’s about dreams he had or just wondering if he made different choices in life – either way, a lot of emotion and feeling is there in the music, and the writing is very masterful.
- “Vestavia Hills” – the song has waltz-like old-timey music and discusses a musician who suffers from burnout.
- “White Beretta” – dealing with the effects of abortion, the narrator is a man who feels guilty with powerful lyrics, “With all that shame and certainty/And I’m sorry you had to go in that room alone.”
- “This Ain’t It” – skilfully crafted and one of the stand-out tracks on the album, this Southern rock anthem provides Isbell’s astounding guitar mastery, along with his songwriting.
- “Miles” – heartbreak is apparent in this final track, with an aging father becoming estranged from his daughter. Lyrics showcase “There’s miles between us” almost like a wistful and nostalgic desire to fix it, but without the energy to back it up.
The album showcases the hard work and all the blood, sweat, and tears Isbell used to create some in-your-face messages. It’s worth a listen!
June 25 – Hill Auditorium – Ann Arbor, MI
June 29 – Frost Amphitheater – Stanford, CA
June 30 – High Sierra Music Festival – Quincy, CA
July 2 – Clackamas County Fairgrounds – Canby, OR
July 6 – Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox – Spokane, WA
July 11 – Marquee Theater – Tempe, AZ
To submit an article an article or review, or to just say hello hit us at [email protected]
Also- check out the search feature in the upper right hand corner and search for your favorite artist, event, venue or genre. You’ll be surprised at what you find!
Check out the Live Music News and Review.com Facebook page for updates and announcements.