After three solo albums of under-achieving rootsy rock with The 400 Unit, Isbell’s girlfriend arranged an intervention and put him in rehab for alcohol addiction. The Isbell that emerged was more focused and writing more personal songs, achieving the potential that his work with The Drive-By Truckers hinted at. These songs are mostly stripped down to basic acoustic arrangements.
There are tales of personal redemption on ‘Live Oak’ and ‘Travelling Alone’, and nostalgia coloured by regret on ‘Songs That She Sang in the Shower’, but the most devastating piece is ‘Elephant’, where ill people try to ignore their circumstances despite the futility. ‘Relatively Easy’ is a great closer, a pretty ascending melody and guardedly optimistic lyrics. Among all of the contemplative acoustic songs, there’s a great riff rocker in ‘Flying Over Water’, and it’s probably my favourite song on here, as the change of pace makes it stand out.
Southeastern isn’t perfect – the irritating rocker ‘Super 8’ is a good candidate for worst song on a great album – but Southeastern is a masterful work by a talented songwriter.