When Jason originally left the Trucker’s I imagined him releasing albums full of awesome tracks like, “Never Gonna Change”, “Decoration Day” and ballads as moving as “Goddamn Lonely Love”. As time moved on and Sirens of the Ditch was released and I stared to hear the previews of Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, I realized that wasn’t gonna be the case. The longer I thought about that, the more it became clear that my original vision of what I thought a solo-Isbell was gonna be was terribly misguided. For one, if he was just gonna continue to write the kind of music he was writing with the Trucker’s, then why not just stay with DBT? For two, it would be utterly impossible to write albums full of tracks of that quality. A single album full of tracks the quality of “Never Gonna Change” would easily go down as one of the greatest albums in the history of rock and roll. So, when I got the band’s second self-titled album I decided to listen to it on its own merits, not on the merits of Jason’s past.
One of the first things I noticed when listening to this album was that, much like his second time through Tampa, his second solo album seems to have much more self-confidence that its predecessor. It seems he no longer needs to lean on his DBT back catalog and he is willing to sonically separate himself from the shadow he had already created. This new sound relies heavily on that Muscle Shoals sound that helped put Alabama on the musical map. Mixing equal parts soul, blues, rock and country, this album proves to be Jason’s most mature album to date.
Unlike Sirens of the Ditch, this album was an entire band experience. Jason wrote the songs, but the entire band; Browan Lollar (guitar), Derry deBorja (keyboards) and Jimbo Hart (bass), wrote and recorded the music as well as produced it alongside Centromatic’s drummer Matt Pence, who also played drums on the album.
The only question left really is whether or not people who like will Jason like this. I think the answer really depends on whether your buying this album to hear ‘Jason Isbell, the artist’, or if you’re buying it to hear the newest album from ‘Jason Isbell, the former guitarist of the Drive-By Truckers’. If you’re buying it to hear more DBT, you’re gonna be disappointed. However, if you buy this album willing to hear Jason in his own skin, then what you’ll find is a fantastic album full of songs as layered and deep as his past efforts with a slightly little different sound. I think it’s Essential Listening. What do you think?