Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Reunions
“It gets easier/But it never gets easy,” Jason Isbell’s voice leaps to create the most undeniable hook of his career on the penultimate song on seventh solo album, Reunions. “It Gets Easier” is a paean to sobriety, but Isbell’s warm vocal delivery invites you to apply it to any practically personal hardship.
Always an accomplished balladeer, Isbell has said he finds it tougher to write great rock songs. But here, Isbell is at his best when he and backing band The 400 Unit are at their loudest. The amplification kicks in on the back half, but the first signals come on fourth track “Overseas,” when a slithery guitar solo lifts a punchy Southern-rock song exploring American disillusionment and loneliness. Isbell defends the overt political nature of his music—on “Be Afraid,” the bridge snipes, “We don’t take requests/We won’t shut up and sing.”
If Isbell doesn’t widen his established sonic repertoire on Reunions — with the exception of “River,” a piano-based gospel experiment examining masculinity—he doesn’t really need to. At a time where so much music captures the darkness and downfall of American principles, it’s refreshing to hear a more optimistic set of songs extolling the potential of listening to, and learning from, one another.