Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “Here We Rest” (Lightning Rod Records)
There’s a remarkable indie renaissance going on around Muscle Shoals, Ala., and Jason Isbell is right at the heart of it.
Isbell’s former band, The Drive-By Truckers, just put out a Shoals-oriented album that taps into the country soul that characterizes the region. The Secret Sisters emerged from the area last year, as did duo the Civil Wars, whose John Paul White is a resident.
Isbell piles on with a subtle, soulful album that fits right in. “Here We Rest,” his second with the 400 Unit and his third since leaving the Truckers, lays down the hometown vibe right from its opening song “Alabama Pines” and carries us along on what is mostly a melancholy, wistful trip.
“Pines” opens with Isbell longing for northern Alabama after moving away and losing his connections: “I don’t even need a name anymore/When no one calls it out, it kinda vanishes away.”
The themes are similar throughout most of the album _ brokenhearted loneliness and alienation from home and the people who are important. Isbell plays with different textures and colors, using his electric guitar to cut like a razor on “Go it Alone,” a mellow organ line to accentuate the subtle harmony on “We’ve Met,” and then combines the two on a New Orleans-style rocker “Never Could Believe.”
And “Save it for Sunday” will break your heart with its slow, sad piano and opening line: “She loves me, she loves me not/I don’t bring it up `cause she’s all I’ve got.”
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: While it’s true much of the album deals with loneliness, it’s not a dreary affair. Take “Codeine,” a sly song about losing a girl to a guy who’s got good drugs. Isbell shows off his songwriting here and the sing-song chorus will surely be a crowd pleaser.