Jason Isbell might be making the dictionary definition of dad-rock right now, and he wears his middle-age beautifully. More than any of his records with the 400 Unit, this feels like an album of adulthood; a steady, subtle suite of songs that grows with each listen. There's nothing as immediate here as "If We Were Vampires" or "Cumberland Gap," but that melodrama is replaced with a stark, bracing sound that showcases the beautiful weariness of Isbell's voice, which conjures vivid tales of life lived. "Dreamsicle" and "Only Children" are both lovely, bittersweet slices of nostalgia for the bad-old-days, a young man's impressions filtered through the sensibilities of an older one into moving, fragmented images: "New sneakers on a high school court and you swore you'd be there." "Be Afraid" and "Running With Our Eyes Closed" are as close as things get to anthemic, the latter finding Isbell faithfully channelling mid-career Bruce Springsteen, who's always been a potent influence on his songwriting. "St. Peter's Autograph" is a heartbreaking missive to a friend who went too soon, and Isbell's knack for finding beauty in tragedy aligns him with some of the country greats on whose shoulders his career stands. It's yet another record of finely wrought Americana from Isbell, one of our most consistently great songwriters, filled with memorable hooks and images that will stay with you long after you're done listening.
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