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Jason Isbell Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

Jason Isbell Southeastern

If you’re an old man, shouting at the clouds about how modern music isn’t the same as it was in your heyday, you would probably enjoy the recent output of Jason Isbell. Isbell’s an Americana artist, whose sincere albums are timeless and elegant, and could have been made any time in the last fifty years. Hailing from Alabama, the soul sound of Muscle Shoals is in his musical DNA, as is the work of respected songwriters like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

Isbell first came to prominence as a member of the Drive-By Truckers, serving as lead guitarist and third songwriter beside Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. He attracted attention with songs like ‘Outfit’, written based on his father’s advice upon joining the band, and ‘Decoration Day’.

Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers in 2007, embarking on a solo career. But his early albums weren’t convincing, and he didn’t come into his own as a solo artist until a 2012 stint in rehab and his marriage to fellow songwriter Amanda Shires. Here are Isbell’s seven studio solo albums to date, ranked from worst to best.

#7 – Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Isbell’s second record is his first with backing band, The 400 Unit. It’s also his least enjoyable record, a talented songwriter phoning it in. Even the best songs, like the punchy ‘How Long’, would merely serve as minor highlights on his stronger records.

#6 – Here We Rest

Isbell’s still inconsistent on 2011’s Here We Rest, but there’s some better material here, particularly the graceful and nostalgic ‘Alabama Pines’ and the solo acoustic ‘Daisy Mae’. I also enjoy the Southern soul of ‘Heart on a String’.

#5 – Sirens of the Ditch

Isbell’s solo debut features several of his former band-mates from Drive-By Truckers, and it’s the most agreeably raw sounding of his solo releases. Highlights include the rocker ‘Brand New Kind of Actress’, recounting the Phil Spector murder trial, the piano driven ‘Chicago Promenade’ and the blue eyed soul of ‘Hurricanes and Hand Grenades’.

#4 – Reunions

Isbell is settled into a comfortable groove here – like his previous record, he’s back with the 400 Unit, delivering both contemplative acoustic songs and roaring rockers. ‘Overseas’ is a great rocker, but the acoustic songs are the highlights – his relationship with his daughter on ‘Letting You Go’ and the pretty ‘River’.

#3 – The Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell The Nashville Sound

After two mostly acoustic albums, Isbell reunited with The 400 Unit. I prefer Isbell in singer-songwriter mode, but there are some fine tracks here, as the outspoken Southern Democrat expresses his political views on ‘White Man’s World’ and ‘Hope The High Road’.

#2 – Something More Than Free

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

Isbell’s previous album, Southeastern, was full of extremely personal songs. On Something More Than Free, Isbell writes like Springsteen, documenting the lives of underdog, blue collar folks. While it’s a singer-songwriter album at heart, with portraits like the title track, there’s propulsion behind ’24 Frames’ and ‘The Life You Chose’.

#1 – Southeastern

Jason Isbell Southeastern

Isbell became sober in 2012 and the results were immediate – a stronger, more focused, and more personal batch of songs. Southeastern was originally intended to be an entirely solo album, with just Isbell’s voice and guitar, but some tracks feature fuller arrangements. My favourites include rocker ‘Flying Over Water’ and the contemplative ‘Relatively Easy’, but the most acclaimed track is the chronicle of a cancer battle on ‘Elephant’.

Are you an Isbell fan? Do you have a favourite album?

Read More:
Jason Isbell album reviews
Worst to Best lists

17 thoughts on “Jason Isbell Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best Leave a comment

  1. Good breakdown of his solo career! Now I know where to start as I’ve only listened to a small amount of his music. My favorite song by Jason Isbell is “Anxiety” (from 2017) which I feel has the potential to become a modern classic.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Southeastern is an exceptional album and I wouldn’t disagree with it taking top spot, as it’s my favourite. Here We Rest is my second favourite, but I just like the vibe on there and, despite it being a bit inconsistent, it was the first of his albums I really fell for. After that, everything is pretty much in the same place for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely love Isbell and I fully agree with your ranking. Southeastern is amazing. Cover Me Up is my hands down favourite, but the whole thing is pretty much perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

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