Jason Isbell moves into rarified territory of great songwriters with “Southeastern”

If there is a songwriter out there creating as many great songs as Jason Isbell has written in the past couple of years, I don’t know him or her.

When a songwriter has two songs as strong as “Codeine” and “Alabama Pines” (the Americana Music Awards Song of the year 2012) on the same CD (2011’s Here We Rest), you stop and take notice. And recall that this young songwriter earlier penned “Dress Blues,” the powerful song that puts a lump in any red-blooded American’s throat.
Then you remember that this is the same cat who wrote “Decoration Day” (his initial Drive-by Truckers’ contribution) and it all starts to make sense.

Jason Isbell's Southeastern

Jason Isbell’s Southeastern

But nothing prepares you for Southeastern.
You would have to be a persnickety critic determined to find one song you could pan out of the 12 to even begin to look for a weakness. And not sure you could find one and be honest.
But then you would miss the incredible number of great songs, starting with the first: “Cover Me Up.” It alone is worth the CD. But you could also say that about “Elephant” — the best song about someone you know who is dying I can recall. Or “Live Oak” or “Songs She Sang in the Shower.”
Isbell has said that much of his songwriting comes from listening to people. It’s that tapping into others’ stories, rather than the navel gazing of so many other songwriters, that sets Isbell apart and gives such power to his songs. His songs are real stories from real people.

Isbell has taken a giant step with Southeastern, his first truly solo CD. Soon, the ever-present description, “formerly of the Drive-by Truckers,” will simply be a footnote.




If there’s one thing I can’t stand
it’s this bar and this cover band
trying to fake their way through ‘Castles Made of Sand.’
That’s one thing I can’t stand.

If there’s one thing I can’t take
it’s the sound that a woman makes
about five seconds after her heart begins to break.
That’s one thing I can’t take.

She should be home by now but she ain’t.
I should’ve gone by now but I can’t.
One of my friends has taken her in and given her Codeine.
One of my friends has taken her in and given her Codeine.

Them eyes was big as stars
when I saw you behind the bar.
I guess that’s the way to keep on smilin’ where you are.
But girl them eyes was big as stars.

It sounds funny when you say my name.
It’s like you’re chewing on a foreign thing
and you won’t get to sleep ’till dawn if it don’t rain.
It sounds so funny when you say my name.

You oughta come home tonight but you won’t.
I wish we knew how to fight but we don’t.
(chorus2: …her friends…)

Darlin’ I’m not one to judge
but if I was then I’d say you don’t look so good.
Got no answers of my own
but with you gone, this place looks bigger than it should.

If there’s two things that I hate
it’s having to cook and trying to date.
Busting ass all day to play ‘hurry up and wait.’
That’s a few things that I hate.

If I call when I ain’t drunk
This old boat’ll still be sunk
(chorus 3…my friends…)


Cover Me Up

A heart on the run
Keeps a hand on a gun
It can’t trust 1anyone

I was so sure
What I needed was more
Tried to shoot out the sun

In days when we raged
We flew off the page
Such damage was done

But I made it through
‘Cause somebody knew
I was meant for 1someone

So girl leave your boots by the bed/we ain’t leavin’ this room
Til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom
It’s cold in this house and I ain’t goin’ out to chop wood
So cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good

Put your faith to the test
When I tore off your dress
In Richmond all high

I sobered up
And I swore that stuff
Forever this time

In the old lover’s scene
I thought it’d be me
Who helped him get home

But home was dream
One that I’d never seen
Til you came along

So girl hang your dress up to dry/we ain’t leavin’ this room
Til Percy Priest breaks open wide and the river runs through
Carries this house on the stones like a piece of drift wood
Cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good

(repeat chorus 1)



She said Andy you’re better than your past,
winked at me and drained her glass,
cross-legged on the barstool, like nobody sits anymore.

She said Andy you’re taking me home,
but I knew she planned to sleep alone.
I’d carry her to bed and sweep up the hair from the floor


If I had fucked her before she got sick
I’d never hear the end of it
she don’t have the spirit for that now
We drink these drinks and laugh out loud,
bitch about the weekend crowd,
and try to ignore the elephant somehow

She said Andy you crack me up,
Seagrams in a coffee cup,
sharecropper eyes and her hair almost all gone.
When she was drunk she made cancer jokes,
she made up her own doctor’s notes,
surrounded by her family, I saw that she was dying alone.


I’d sing her classic country songs
and she’d get high and sing along.
She don’t have much voice to sing with now
We’d burn these joints in effegy,
cry about what we used to be,
and try to ignore the elephant somehow.

I buried her a thousand times,
giving up my place in line,
but I don’t give a damn about that now
There’s one thing that’s real clear to me,
no one dies with dignity.
We just try to ignore the elephant somehow.
We just try to ignore the elephant somehow.
We just try to ignore the elephant somehow.


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1 comment for “Jason Isbell moves into rarified territory of great songwriters with “Southeastern”

  1. July 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm

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