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There are few people who haven’t listened to a single song by Jason Isbell, but I’m one of them. Unfortunately for Jason, I think I might stick with Sadler Vaden, because I can’t imagine how Isbell’s guitarist could be improved upon in backing him. Vaden’s self-titled debut solo album harkens back to rock of the’70s and ’80s – with jangly guitars, crashing drums and straight-forward but satisfying lyrics. The album hits its sweet spots with soaring romps like “You Can’t Have it All,” which sounds like it could have been on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack.
But looking beyond the rock anthems, the album also contains some notes of modern angst – the song “Chameleon” is a heartfelt plea to the song’s subject to drop the façade of ambivalence as a form of self-preservation and to enjoy a more genuine existence (“The only way you’re gonna be great/Is to act like who you’re meant to be.”) A simple message? Perhaps, but still sincere and touching.
Some of the lyrical combinations are a little too simplistic to be successful – the chorus of “Into the Woods” contains the throwaway couplet “I’m not feelin’ like myself/I’m feelin’ like somebody else” – but despite the wobbly cliché, the song, like the rest of the album, is a great listen and compelling in both its songwriting and lyrical efforts. Someone better warn Jason Isbell that he might need to find a new guitarist soon for any future 400 Unit projects.