by N.T. McQueen
As the master storyteller Jason Isbell has shown us over the years, life is hard. Relationships fail, our decisions, good or bad, can haunt us, regret, pain, loss, triumphs, addictions, glimmers of hope, and everything in the middle make up this world we were born into. In Weathervanes, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit take a deep dive into the physical, spiritual, and emotional frailty of being human.
If you assumed the album would lean toward the darker side when you saw “Death Wish” as the first track, then your assumptions were correct. From the start, Isbell’s lyrical tales take us into the caverns of the human heart. Mostly exploring regret in all of its incarnations or in the form of cautionary tales. Many of the tracks find Isbell doing some self examination of decisions that have altered the trajectory of relationships. The catchy verses of “King of Oklahoma”, “Middle of the Morning”, and “This Ain’t It” get the reader moving and moved with a fantastic blend of melody and melancholy.
Other tracks bring out this theme of regret using nostalgic and subdued swells behind remorseful stories like “Strawberry Woman”, “If You Insist”, “Volunteer”, and “White Berreta”. A fitting climax of regret hits with the final track, “Mirrors” where Isbell recalls a father’s memories about his daughter heading into womanhood. But, true to his nature, Isbell avoids the trappings of sentimentality and explores the complexity of how decisions can have lasting effects.
What’s so endearing about this musical thesis on regret is the subtext, the undercurrent, of redemption. Within each lonesome and painful story, light shines through. Yes, we make mistakes and our actions can have irrevocable consequences, yet, if we learn and grow, then our futures can be more than what we feel worthy to have. Even though seeing “Death Wish” as a first track may dissuade you, remember that “everybody dies but you gotta find the reason to carry on.” Isbell helps us confront the dark to step outside, open up a window, and let a little light in.
With Elliott Smith-esque vibes and singer/songwriter melodies coupled with the classic, country staple of good ol’ fashioned storytelling, Weathervanes delivers, not only to country and rock fans, but to anyone who identifies as a human being. So, if you are human, experience the ups and downs of this existence with Mr. Isbell & the 400 Unit. It will be one of the decisions you won’t regret.