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Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit: Life Back Home

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
Allison V. Smith
Courtesy of the artist
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

"Here We Rest" was the original motto of Alabama, the state Jason Isbell was raised in and still calls home. It's a perfect title for his new album. After nearly a decade as a touring musician, Isbell spent more time at home last year to write the record, and his new songs reflect that choice. Finding himself in familiar territory, he re-examines his past, attempts to rekindle relationships and retrace old patterns, and fights the feeling of being a stranger in his own town in "Alabama Pines."

Moving back home from anywhere after years away requires a period of readjustment. In "Tour of Duty," Isbell explores the path of a soldier returning from war. His tale of returning to civilian life is made even more poignant by the fact that Alabama offers a disproportionate number of its young people to military service. But unlike Isbell, who wrestles with fitting back into his old life on the rest of the album, this soldier is determined to put his tour of duty behind him.

Isbell parted ways with Drive-By Truckers in 2007 to follow a musical path that diverged from the band's take on Southern rock — he wanted to incorporate more of the country-soul that heard growing up, and on Here We Rest, he does. He recorded part of the album at the legendary FAME Studios, an acronym for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises. FAME has made an indelible mark on American music since the 1950s, cranking out hits by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Paul Anka. Isbell captures the sound and vibe of the place perfectly — one more sign that music is the one part of coming home that's not a struggle for him.

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Meredith Ochs