Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s ‘Georgia Blue’: The Five Best Moments

Here's a few choice standouts to get you started.

Written by Cillea Houghton
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s ‘Georgia Blue’: The Five Best Moments
Jason Isbell; Photo credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Jason Isbell is a man of his word, and the proof is in his new album, Georgia Blue.

The 13-track project fulfills the multi-Grammy Award winner’s promise from election day 2020, wherein he pledged to record an album of cover songs by artists with a connection to Georgia as a token of gratitude to the state for voting blue in a presidential election for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The result is Georgia Blue — Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit, putting their spellbinding spin on an eclectic collection of covers by artists that touch every corner of music. Those include Gladys Knight, R.E.M., James Brown, the Indigo Girls, Otis Redding and many more. Meanwhile, the roster of artists he collaborates with are just as diverse as the songs themselves, with Brittney Spencer, Brandi Carlile, John Paul White and acclaimed singer-songwriter/fiddle-player Amanda Shires among the elite talent on the noteworthy effort.

Likewise, the meaning of the project is as powerful as the voices behind it, as all of the proceeds will benefit social justice-focused, Georgia-based nonprofits Black Voters Matter, Fair Fight and Georgia STAND-UP. Here are five of the best moments on Georgia Blue.

It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”

Listeners are bound to be in awe as they’re greeted with a dose of soul exuding from Spencer’s impeccable voice, as she takes the lead on this James Brown classic. Her raspy vocal runs balanced with the natural elegance of her delivery elevate the underlying female empowerment theme of the 1966 hit that credits women for being at the root of man’s success. It’s a message she delivers naturally and with confidence, allowing her pristine voice to shine as she conveys “This is a man’s, man’s, man’s world / But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.” “Y’all know I’m telling the truth,” she can be heard professing in the background, serving as a statement-making moment on the album.

I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”

Oftentimes, Isbell proves that all he needs to blow you away is just a guitar and his powerhouse voice, which he demonstrates on a riveting cover of Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” The trailblazer captures the soulful nature of the song through simple instrumentation of sharp electric guitar, accented by a gentle piano and a touch of orchestration, alongside his dazzling voice. Isbell’s interpretation is filled with grace, and one can feel the pain of the story through the passion in his voice, doing the song justice.

Cross-Bones Style”

“Cross-Bones Style” marks a moment where the flawless instrumentation of the album takes center stage. On this rendition of Cat Powers’ angsty 1998 track, it’s Isbell’s wife, Shires (one fourth of The Highwomen) who shines, translating the song’s emo flair with the sound of her striking fiddle, her voice wild and free as she sings, “Oh come child / In a crossbones style / Oh come child / Come and rescue me / ‘Cause you have seen some / Unbelievable things.” Her screeching fiddle adds an electric element to track that makes for a standout occasion.

Kid Fears”

Carlile’s voice alone is enough to solidify her cover of “Kid Fears” as one of the most compelling moments on the record. Here, Carlile joins forces with the equally captivating voice of acclaimed instrumentalist Julien Baker on a cover of this stirring number by the Indigo Girls. Carlile and Baker respect the song’s heavy subject matter that speaks to the imaginative fears and very real abuse that some experience in childhood, the singers carrying forth the song’s message with intention. With soft harmonies from Isbell adding even more depth to the number, “Kid Fears” is one of Georgia Blue’s most beautiful offerings.

Midnight Train to Georgia”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Spencer claims two of the album’s best numbers. With a voice that is transcendental, the Baltimore native has the rare ability to transport one back in time with her radiant voice that is both classic and modern. Spencer honors the timeless hit by Knight and the Pips by delivering an understated version that allows her glowing presence to shine through, honoring the integrity of the song’s legacy while adding her own power and grace. It’s one of the crowning jewels of Georgia Blue.