Jason Isbell is an ex-alcoholic from Alabama who sobered up over 8 years ago. He spent six years as guitarist in the Drive-By-Truckers before leaving to pursue a lucrative solo career.
The first album he made while clean was 'Southeastern' (2013). This was produced by Dave Cobb and Cobb has been employed on every album since; this is Isbell's seventh.
Now 40-something, and with his wife Amanda Shires in the band, Isbell's perspective is broad, stable and self-assured. Isbell has topped the folk, rock and country charts in the States but is less well-known in Europe. With a run of albums of consistently high quality it may only be a matter of time before this changes.
There's an epic sweep to the songs on 'Reunions' that are designed to be heard in big venues. The opening track, What I've Done To Help, hits the ground running with reflections on dealing with fame that have the qualities of an electric gospel song.
The momentum is carried through in the rest of the nine tracks and, although one tune is called Running With Our Eyes Closed, there is more of a sense of moving towards a better future than resting smugly on his laurels.
The only song that overtly refers back to his years of addiction is It Gets Easier which comes with the caveat "but it never gets easy"; a slogan that could be included as an annex to a 12 step AA program handout.
Overseas is another powerful song that features a 'Like a Hurricane' style guitar solo. On a more domesticated level, Letting You Go is a touching song about fatherhood written for his daughter, Mercy Rose. "It's easy to see that you'll get where your going, the hard part is letting you go", the proud dad sings; a statement that strikes me as being a little premature given that Mercy is still only 4-years-old!
"We're all struggling with the world on fire" Isbell concedes in St Peter's Autograph but the strong impression he and his band give is that this is a struggle they are already well on the way to winning.
Jason Isbell's website