Jason Isbell Georgia Blue
- Released: November 26, 2021
- Originally Released: 2021
- Label: Southeastern Records
Rolling Stone3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The results are good to great, with two R.E.M. songs bookending the project. Banjo wizard B‚la Fleck and mandolin ace Chris Thile chip in to recreate the intricate, yearning strains of "Nightswimming" on their instruments..."
Paste (magazine) - "[The musicians] help craft a soulful, affectionate tribute to the American South."
Pitchfork (Website) - "All of the cameos give GEORGIA BLUE the slight air of an old-fashioned tribute album, the kind that blossomed during alternative rock's peak in the 1990s....The artists covered on Georgia Blue also strengthen the connection to alternative rock's glory days."
Personnel: Jason Isbell (vocals, guitar); Sadler Vaden (guitar, background vocals); Amanda Shires (fiddle); Derry Deborja (piano, organ, keyboards, synthesizer); Chad Gamble (drums).
Audio Mixer: Gena Johnson.
Recording information: Blackbird Studios, Nashville, TN; Sound Emporium.
A promise is a promise, and if you make one in public, people will expect you to live up to it. During the heat of the 2020 presidential campaign, confirmed Democrat Jason Isbell pledged that if Joe Biden won the White House and carried Georgia, he would cut an album paying homage to artists and songwriters from the Peach State (not traditionally a blue state), with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. Nine months into the Biden administration, Isbell has delivered the record he promised, and 2021's Georgia Blue feels more substantive than one might expect. The genesis of the LP may have been founded on a whim, but it's also a set that gives a gifted songwriter a chance to tip his hat to other artists he admires, as well as offering a long look into the diverse sounds and styles that helped shape his musical mind. No one is likely to be surprised that R.E.M. makes the set list, not once but twice with acoustic reworkings of "Driver 8" and "Nightswimming" (the latter featuring B‚la Fleck and Chris Thile), but the rip-roaring rock of Drivin' N' Cryin's "Honeysuckle Blue," the low-key blues of Precious Bryant's "The Truth" (with Adia Victoria on lead vocals), and the propulsive indie rock of Now It's Overhead's "Reverse" might not seem so obvious to casual observers. Isbell puts his heart, soul, and guts into every performance here, and even old reliables like "Midnight Train to Georgia," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" connect in fresh ways, largely due to the commitment of Isbell and his collaborators, and their understanding of what makes these songs special. The 12-minute stroll through the Allman Brothers Band's "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" is the album's sole misfire, a respectful interpretation that doesn't capture the ineffable spark of the At Fillmore East recording (which was more about performance than songcraft) and loses its way before it's done. The covers album is usually a tricky prospect for an artist, especially one best known for their songwriting, but Georgia Blue is one that succeeds because these are tunes Jason Isbell clearly cares about as much as anything that came from his own pen. The love and fire on display here confirm what his best work has always shown -- he's not just a fine songwriter, he's a top-shelf musician who lives for this stuff, and it's a pleasure to hear him dig into this material. (Money raised by this album will be donated to the Black Voters Matter Fund, the political action group Fair Fight, and the social justice organization Georgia STAND-UP.) ~ Mark Deming
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