Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Josh Niles of Big Light, Nashville, Tennessee
Jason Isbell sings, "My angry heart beats relatively easy/My lonely heart beats relatively easy," during the first song of this latest session -- one from his brilliant new collection, "Southeastern." Those are two different beats, but they accomplish the same thing: Those hearts have a singular goal and it's just to keep the miserable wreck they belong to functioning well enough to get to another day, to get through the night, whether they want to or not, whether the miserable wreck deserves it or not. The heart doesn't decide a thing. It just pumps. It stays steady and sure. It beats. All it does is beat.
Many men curse these hearts. They stand in opposition of them doing their jobs - keeping them alive, keeping them lonely, keeping them angry or keeping them in something like love for longer than they want to be. These hearts get blamed for everything, but it's the men themselves who take the brunt of all the punishment that gets dispensed.
Isbell likes to look at these sorts of men - from far away and from close up - to see how they operate, to understand their desires and their fractures. He finds their imperfections - as well as his own - as their most interesting parts. They make for a wonderful heartbrokenness that flows through them like blood, water, spit and bullshit. They have their defenses and they have their excuses, but they all also have their reasons and many of them are better than expected. They are reasons for behaving and doing that go far beyond easy words or stories. These are the unabridged, but beautified tragedies of lives that don't have to end badly. Sometimes they do and that's too bad, but often they turn themselves into those endings where people mourn the way you'd want someone to mourn you when you go. They can see all the good and they can understate the scars and rough edges. You might still be the man that you think you are.