On his latest album, Here We Rest, rocker Jason Isbell embraces his rich Alabama musical roots while branching out into country and soul. The results are arresting. With a clear voice and stories for miles, the heartfelt music and poignant lyrics packed a punch when he and his band performed live in the KEXP studios.
Isbell has always been a top-notch songwriter, penning many memorable gems during his time with Drive-By Truckers. After years of nearly constant touring, both with the Truckers and his current band The 400 Unit, Isbell spent the better part of a year at home, which allowed him to reacquaint himself with his hometown in northern Alabama — near Muscle Shoals, a region that has suffered mightily from the economic downturn of the past few years. The songs he wrote during that time are filled with pain, sorrow and longing, but what really stuck out during this performance was the songs' deep emotion and gentle beauty.
"Alabama Pines" started the set, as it does the album, with a story about a man in a state of emotional disrepair, estranged from the woman he loves and without his friends. In a clear voice, full of yearning, Jason sings about a man who is unable to find his way back to the life he used to know and is aching for "someone to take him home through those Alabama pines."
With its big stand up bass and accordion, Isbell announces that the gently swaying "Codeine" is music to party to. And, in "Tour of Duty," he sings about a soldier coming home from the war in Iraq, wishing for a sense of normalcy as he tries to assimilate back into civilian life. And the band rocks out in "Outfit," a classic Drive-By Truckers tune.
The set beautifully showcased a group of musicians totally in sync, and Isbell seemed proud to introduce his gifted band, which includes bassist Jimbo Hart, drummer Chad Gamble, keyboardist Derry DeBorja and guitarist Browan Lollar, whose gorgeous painting graces the cover of Here We Rest.