This spring, country-rock star Jason Isbell, one of the best songwriters we’ve got working right now, is coming back with Reunions, the new album that he recorded with his band the 400 Unit. Isbell has been leveling up with every album over the past decade, and it’s scary to think with what worlds he could conquer if that trend keeps up. Reunions is Isbell’s follow-up up to 2017’s triumphant The Nashville Sound, and it sure looks like the man is working hard to go big on this next one.
We’ve already posted “Be Afraid,” the purposeful first single from Reunions. Today, he’s followed it up with another song. “What’ve I Done To Help” is the opening track from Reunions, and it’s a big one. The song is a big, barrel-chested ballad that runs seven minutes and features grand, weepy strings. It might be the most self-consciously arena-sized song that Isbell has ever written.
And yet “What’ve I Done To Help” is still unmistakably a Jason Isbell song. Nobody else sings like that guy, and he really projects on this one. Even amidst the song’s grandeur, you can still hear the intuitive interplay of the 400 Unit. (There are some great, subtle bass and organ moments on this one.) Lyrically, the song is all about guilt. It’s about living a good life with your family, something you didn’t realize was possible, but then looking around and seeing the world falling apart around you. It’s about empathy and about asking yourself tough questions. Give it a listen below.
Reunions is out 5/15 on Isbell’s own Southeastern label.