Isbell, along with his wife, joins the lineup for Sunday's FestivALL edition of Mountain Stage.
Despite all of the ancillary details that have been noted about Isbell and "Southeastern" over the past few weeks, there's been one understatement: the record is an achievement on par with those in his personal life.
While touching on themes of addiction and sobriety, the lonesomeness and perils of life on the road, and romance, it may seem as though Isbell is chronicling transitions in his own life. However, the 34-year old contends the subject matter is personal without being necessarily autobiographical.
"That's the beauty of writing songs. You don't have to make a documentary or a fictitious work. You don't have to delineate between those two," he said, noting that the line between his own experiences and observations of others is blurred throughout the record.
"I'm always in there. There are always things that I'm writing about that are outside of me and things that are me, too. But if someone acts in a movie — people don't come up to Arnold Schwarzenegger and think he was actually the Terminator. I don't see why in songs people think that when you say 'I,' you're talking about yourself."
With the exception of a few upbeat songs like "Stockholm," "Flying Over Water," and "Super 8" (a cautionary tale of excess that evokes Crazy Horse-era Neil Young with a twangy shuffle), "Southeastern" comes across on the whole as dark, raw, and loaded with emotional heft.
It's not that Isbell hasn't been contemplative in the past; it's just more pronounced on "Southeastern" given the record's largely stripped-down feel and limited instrumental palate. With few songs truly highlighting Isbell's chops as a guitarist, the focus turns almost exclusively to his talents as a songwriter.
The reason for such a shift in the sound is somewhat due to Isbell's decision to turn the reins of producer over to Dave Cobb.
"It was difficult to do. I know a lot of people have a hard time with it, and I have in the past, because the songs are very important to you and you want them to come out in a certain way," he said.
Having the songs on "Southeastern" come out the way he wanted brought Isbell to use his backing band, the 400 Unit, a bit more lightly compared to past recordings. Keyboardist Derry de Borja and drummer Chad Gamble appear off and on throughout the record's dozen tracks, leaving Isbell room to explore the songs a bit more deeply on his own in many places.
"The songs are more personal for me, and a lot of them, sometimes through the use of fictional characters, tell a bit of a story about where my life's been for the last year or two. I just felt like it was time to do that kind of a record," he said, nothing that his original intent was to create a solo, acoustic set of songs.
"I'm trying to build something, and when I finish that, I'll be trying to build something else," he said. "You just don't use the same tools every time you try to build something."
Other Lifestyles HeadlinesCountry Living: Stash summer squash surplus in freezer