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Music / Jason Isbell

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Isbell and the 400 Unit.
And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames
In 24 frames
— "24 Frames"

A singer-songwriter from Lauderdale County, Alabama, active in Alternative Country and Southern Rock. A member of the Drive-By Truckers from 2001 to 2007, he has led his own band, The 400 Unit, since then.

Discography (with The 400 Unit):

  • Sirens of the Ditch (2007)
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (2009)
  • Here We Rest (2011)
  • Southeastern (2013)
  • Something More Than Free (2015)
  • The Nashville Sound (2017)
  • Reunions (2020)
  • Georgia Blue (2021)
  • Weathervanes (2023)


30 to 50 Feral Tropes:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Shows up in a few songs—usually used subtly enough not to interfere with the flow of the music.
    It's the ladies I love and the law that I hate
    But Lord let me die in the Iodine State
    — "Palmetto Rose"
  • The Alcoholic: Formerly. Amanda Shiresnote , Ryan Adams, and manager Traci Thomas intervened in 2012 and got him turned around, and it seems to have stuck.
    But I made it through, because somebody knew
    I was meant for someone
    — "Cover Me Up"
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The cause of the bar fight in "Songs That She Sang in the Shower," which leads to the breakup that the rest of the song focuses on.
  • The American Dream: Either epitomized or deconstructed by "Something More Than Free," depending on how you interpret it.
    I don't think on why I'm here or where it hurts
    I'm just lucky to have the work
    Sunday morning I'm too tired to go to church
    But I thank God for the work
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Amanda Shires supposedly gave him one while they were watching The Theory of Everything. The story is that Jason turned to her and asked "If you had known when we met that I had only a few years to live, would you still have given me a chance?" She answered "When we met, you did have only a few years to live."
  • Artist and the Band: Jason fronts his own band called Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit.
  • Cover Album: Georgia Blue, also a charity album, consists entirely of covers of artists from Georgia, keeping to a promise Isbell made on Twitter if Georgia flipped to blue in the 2020 presidential election.
  • Dare to Be Badass: "Be Afraid"
    ...but do it anyway!
  • Deep South: Grew up in it, and loves to write songs about it. These songs are usually pretty sympathetic to the area's residents, but pull no punches about its darker side.
    • Specifically, "Decoration Day" and "Alabama Pines" make reference to life in Alabama, "Palmetto Rose" is about Charleston, South Carolina, and "Cover Me Up" and "White Man's World" are "set" in or near Nashville.
    • "Dress Blues" is more vague, but the line about "sweet tea in Styrofoam cups" still places it firmly in the South. It was written specifically in memory of Matthew Conley, from the same Alabama county as Jason.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: He doesn't do this anymore, but the people in his songs sure do. From "Alabama Pines":
    If we pass through on a Sunday
    Better make a stop at Wayne's
    It's the only open liquor store north
    And I can't stand the pain
  • Face Death with Dignity: Discussed, and ultimately rejected, in "Elephant."
    There's one thing that's real clear to me
    No one dies with dignity
    We just try to ignore the elephant somehow
  • Feuding Families: Isbell wrote the title track for the Drive-By Truckers' album Decoration Day, which tells an ostensibly-true story about two Alabama families with a very ugly history.
    I never knew how it all got started
    A problem with Hollin before we were born
    And I don't know the name of the boy we tied down
    And beat till he just couldn't walk anymore
    But I know the caliber in Daddy's chest
    I know what Hollin Hill drives
    The state let him go but I guess it was best
    'Cause nobody needs all us Lawsons alive
  • Homesickness Hymn: "Alabama Pines."
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: "Flying Over Water":
    Take my hand, baby we're over land
    I know flying over water makes you cry
    Where's that liquor cart, maybe we shouldn't start
    But I can't for the life of me see why
  • Inherent in the System: "White Man's World."
  • Intercourse with You: "Cover Me Up"
    So girl, leave your boots by the bed, we ain't leavin' this room
    'Til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom
  • Love Will Lead You Back: "Overseas" is about the moment the narrator realises this won't happen.
    My love won't change
    My love won't change
    My love won't change a thing
  • Manly Tears: Referenced occasionally.
    Made it out to the truck without breaking down
    Everybody knows you in a speed trap town
  • Meaningful Funeral: "Dress Blues." If a war has ever taken someone you cared about, invokedbrace yourself.
  • Metaphorgotten: "Cast Iron Skillet" uses seemingly reasonable folksy advice to make a point of not just accepting ingrown prejudice.
    Don't wash the cast iron skillet
    Don't drink and drive, you'll spill it
    Don't ask too many questions or you'll never get to sleep
  • Murder Ballad: Definitely "Live Oak"; possibly "Yvette."
  • Parents as People: Isbell seems to like this trope. The narrator's dying father in "Speed Trap Town," for example, and the separated couple in "Dreamsicle."
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The narrator's intention in "Yvette."
    I might not be a man yet—but that bastard will never be
    So I'm cleaning my Weatherby
    I sight in my scope, and I hope against hope
    I hope against hope
  • Precision F-Strike: "Elephant" drops a "fuck" and a "bitch", "Palmetto Rose" has one usage of "bullshit", which alone warranted Something More Than Free an explicit tag.
  • Protest Song: A number of them.
    And if your words add up to nothing, then you're making a choice
    To sing a cover when we need a battle cry

    — "Be Afraid"
  • Potty Emergency: Leave it to Jason Isbell to have this trope Played for Drama - in "King of Oklahoma" the source of the narrator's troubles is because he fell trying to relive himself on a ladder. This starts a chain of events that leads to addiction, losing his job from being too weak to work, a bitter divorce, and culminates in a heist of copper pipes that someone pulls off before he could get to the construction site, leaving the narrator with nothing but his truck to his name.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Save the World" references a school shooting where "the cops just let them die"—most likely either the one in Parkland, Florida, or in Uvalde, Texas.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Hinted at in "Palmetto Rose," and addressed openly in "White Man's World"—both times in a broad historical sense. Surprisingly averted in "Decoration Day."
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Played with in "Stockholm" - the narrator actively wants to be emotionally bound to the girl he's singing about, and likens their affair to a kidnapping.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Referenced in "Songs That She Sang in the Shower."
    On a lark—on a whim
    I said there's two kinds of men in this world
    And you're neither of them
  • The Topic of Cancer: "Elephant" is about a man trying to support a friend dying of cancer.
    When she was drunk she made cancer jokes
    Made up her own doctor's notes
    Surrounded by her family, I saw that she was dying alone
    There's one thing that's real clear to me:
    No one dies with dignity
    We just try to ignore the elephant somehow
  • Unreliable Narrator: "Yvette." His interpretation of events might be accurate, but the listener only has his word to go on.
  • The War on Terror: The soldier being honored in "Dress Blues" was a casualty of it.
  • We All Die Someday: "If We Were Vampires" is about a married couple who realize they cannot be together forever because one will die before the other, leaving the survivor alone until their own death.
  • We Are as Mayflies: The theme of "If We Were Vampires":
    It's knowing that this can't go on forever
    Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
    Maybe we'll get forty years together
    But one day I'll be gone
    Or one day you'll be gone
  • Working-Class Hero: Frequently. Some good examples are the truck driver and palm-leaf artists in "Palmetto Rose," and the narrator of "Something More Than Free."
    It's war that I wage to get up every day
    It's a fiberglass boat, it's azaleas in May
    It's the women I love and the law that I hate
    But Lord, let me die in the Iodine State

Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone...