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My Top 18 Albums Of 2013: # 14 – Southeastern – Jason Isbell

The elephant in the room


















So how good is Southeastern? Well, Jason Isbell performs it better live which suggests it might be a little dubious in the sonic bang department. I’ve listened to it many times, over the last coupla days alone, and it still feels a little unfocussed. When it first came out I liked Southeastern fine but it took a performance at Lincoln Center to see me on the concept.

That show was so good I know for sure soul brother Jahn Xavier exited a fan and I myself was completely blown away and went back again to the album and found myself further along than “Elephant”. Ah, yes “Elephant”. “Elephant” is the elephant in the room on Southeastern. A song so good that the former Drive By Trucker guitarist buried is past and buried it good in this very powerful study of a woman with cancer.

I think the track reverberates so strongly because I am sure I am not the only one with friends who have died from cancer, or AIDS –really the slow fade of life is a despairing thing to watch, and when you are faced with it, it is hard to watch without blinking. “Elephant” is a painfully honest song though I truly believe it to be not quite accurate, I take exception to “nobody dies with dignity” because I don’t see illness as robbing somebody of their dignity the way, say, alcohol can rob you of your dignity. The difference is choice, of course. If you have no choice but to decay to death, it is not from lack of dignity. I’m not nitpicking, this is a great work with a wrong sentiment.

But that is just one of many story songs, and it works like a counterpoint to Kacey Musgrave’s and Brandy Clark’s new album, both of which are about as good as country gets nowadays,  and both of which are not quite, for all their earned emotional depth they don’t sound strong enough.

Jason’s does, and it does often, though not always, it starts off great with three killer songs and “Elephant” and while it is all the definition of a  tastefully performed nightmare, the songs build up into extending stories of loss and somewhere in all of that hope as well.

The band are a touch generic though it sure doesn’t hurt the knockabout “Super 8” (as “I don’t wanna die in a Super 8 Motel”) and the accumulation of stories work themselves into a worldview and while it isn’t a happy one, it is true one, and while it is mostly a bunch of stories and they don’t always end well, they always show people at their most humane. For better or worse.

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