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2023 Albums Thing 181 - Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit “Georgia Blue”

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As we now know the 2020 US Presidential Election was a pretty fraught affair between Democrat Joe Biden and “Republican” Donald Trump. On the day after the polls closed, as the country (and likely the world), awaited the announcement of results it became clear that the result in the Southern state of Georgia would prove pivotal (as Trump has come to find out to his cost with him recently been indicted on election fraud charges in that very State). During that day Jason Isbell tweeted 

If Biden wins Georgia, I’m gonna make a charity covers album of my favorite Georgia songs.

Joe Biden did win Georgia and that’s how we wind up with “Georgia Blue” on Blue vinyl (blue being the colour of the Democrats). It was reportedly an idea that had already been kicked around and a rough track list had been drawn up. But following Isbell’s tweet, and Biden’s win, other artists expressed an interest. Brandi Carlile tweeted that she wanted to record the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears”, John Paul White of the Civil Wars wanted in. We also hear legendary bluegrass picker Béla Fleck and other emerging artists like singer-songwriter Brittney Spencer.

“Georgia Blue” consists of 14 covers of songs from or about the state of Georgia. It’s not just Isbell taking the lead here either, members of the 400 Unit also get to step up. The album is bookended by 2 R.E.M songs. To start we have “Nightswimming” featuring Béla Fleck and to finish “Driver 8” (one of my favourite R.E.M songs and it’s OK, this version doesn’t endanger my love of the original version).

Next up 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden gets to sing the lead on Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s “Honeysuckle Blue” (Vaden was formerly a member of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’) a noisy rocker. However, the absolute and undisputed highlight of “Georgia Blue” is track 4 where Amanda Shires sings an incredible version of Cat Power’s “Cross Bones Style” in a swampy, Louisiana voodoo stylee. A great, great song by an artist who I previously knew nothing of and prompted me to dig deeper into both Cat Power and Amanda Shires music.

There are a trio of soul covers taken on. James Brown’s “It’s A Mans Mans Mans World” is sung competently by Brittney Spencer; “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was a brave choice and I’m sorry Jason, but as much as I like you, you ain’t no Otis and finally “Midnight Train To Georgia” which just doesn’t cut it without the Pips ! The try at the previously noted “Kid Fears” is actually pretty good, it’s such a good song it would be pretty difficult to mess it up.

Although this doesn’t read like too much of a great review it’s an OK record, an interesting listen as I do like covers albums and all proceedings went to charity so I’m not running it down too much…except to say that when I die and if I end up in Hell I already know that Hell will feature this albums 12+ minute long take of the Allman Brothers guitar noodling dirge “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” on constant repeat. Hearing it once was more than any human should be made to suffer (I’ve just listened to it for the second (and last !) time for the purposes of this piece and can confirm it is horrific) and on my digital copy of this album I’ve deleted that file so as not to risk ever hearing it again !

Thankfully “Cross Bones Style” (almost) made it all worth it

Cross Bones Style - https://youtu.be/OHZQywB0Lu4

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