ALBUM REVIEW: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes

4.5 rating
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Weathervanes

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit release their eighth studio album, Weathervanes, on June 9th. The artwork accompanying the album features a weathervane consisting of a broken knife, a cast iron skillet, and what appears to be religious iconography. Notably, the only directional indicators on the album are “S” and “E”, presumably referencing Isbell’s own Southeastern Records label.

Fans of Isbell will feel immediately at home with the musicianship and lyrical content of the album, described as being about “adult love, about change, about the danger of nostalgia and the interrogation of myths, about cruelty and regret and redemption.”

The opening track, “Death Wish”, is a song about being in a relationship with someone suffering from mental illness; the narrator describes a love that began as wild and fun before deteriorating and the inability of the other party to help his lover.

“King of Oklahoma” is the too familiar story of the opioid epidemic in the US. The narrator suffers a workplace injury and becomes addicted to pain pills, resulting in attempting to steal from his employer to support his habit and the death of a relationship due to the addiction. While not autobiographical, Isbell is famously no stranger to addiction and writes credibly on the topic.

“Middle of the Morning” discusses life in isolation during the pandemic and highlights the power of Isbell’s voice. The lyrical content is some of Isbell’s best, describing the claustrophobia and frustration of enduring a lockdown while battling his demons. The song also recognizes how this impacts his partner with the following passage, a classic of Isbell’s lyricism: “I know you’re scared of me, so I never get too close, I just sit here on the tailgate like farm hand’s ghost. Watch the roses bloom, watch them wilt away and die til I notice I’ve been crying this whole time.”

 “Save the World” reflects on Isbell’s fears as a father in a country where gun violence and school shootings are common. Reflecting on the Uvalde tragedy, he sings, “I didn’t get a chance to check the news/Somebody shot up a classroom again/And when you said the cops just let them die/I heard the shaking n your voice.”

 Isbell describes a moment in a grocery store, scanning for exits while his daughter looks for the candy aisle, his panic at the sound of a balloon popping, and questioning if he and his wife can’t just keep her home from school. The track is an excellent example of Isbell’s willingness to delve into current politics and social issues. Isbell leans decidedly left of his roots and doesn’t hesitate to use his platform to fight for social justice and change.

“Cast Iron Skillet” is destined to be a fan favourite and ranks with tracks like “Alabama Pines” and “Children of Children”. The instrumentation is perfect, and the lyrics begin with what appears to be pieces of advice from his southern roots, shifting to micro-stories of different characters, culminating in the tale of a girl who falls in love with a boy of another race, “Jamie found a boyfriend/With smiling eyes and dark skin/And her daddy never spoke another word to her again.”

Classic Isbell story-telling is on full display with “White Beretta”, in which the narrator drives his girlfriend to get an abortion in the heart of the Bible Belt. He struggles with the decision both before and after; the song is written with the benefit of hindsight. This song is particularly relevant in the United States after the Supreme Court overturned the legal precedent protecting a woman’s right to choose and is another example of Isbell’s political statements.

While it is unclear if the song is autobiographical (Isbell was born in 1979, while the song references turning 19 in 1990), how Isbell creates heartbreaking and believable characters is on full display. Lines such as, “I thank god you weren’t brought up like me/with all that shame and certainty/and I’m sorry you had to go in that room alone” are such breathtaking, profound things to sing that its hard to imagine creating this narrative out of thin air, but perhaps that is part of what makes Jason Isbell such a phenomenal songwriter.

The entire 13-track album clocks in at over an hour. While it’s an excellent album, some tracks feature such weighty topics and emotionally driven characters and stories that the listener should sit and slowly digest each track individually to appreciate it upon their first listen fully. As you go through the album, you’ll find yourself repeatedly listening to the same track, soaking in every second of every note.


Xsnoize Author
Jesse Yarbrough 2 Articles
Jesse Yarbrough lives in Louisville, Kentucky and has been a lifelong fan of live music. He played guitar, poorly, in several punk bands who’s breakups were more celebrated than their shows. He writes show reviews, interviews, bad jokes, and does photography. His favorite current bands are the Gaslight Anthem, Frank Turner, Jason Isbell, Avail, and Bad Religion.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.