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Jason Isbell’s new song asks ‘What’ve I Done To Help’

AL.com logo AL.com 3/6/2020 By Matt Wake, al.com

We now know how Jason Isbell's upcoming album opens.

Isbell, a Grammy winning Alabama native now residing in the Nashville area, has released "What've I Done To Help," the second single and first track off his seventh studio LP, "Reunions," due May 15.

The song channels vintage Laurel Canyon strum. Opening with Isbell repeatedly singing the tune’s title like a mantra, “What’ve I Done To Help” floats forward on liquid mercury bass, cinematic strings, soft-focus keyboards and pitter-patter percussion. The lyrics, an Isbell calling card, include: Thought I was alone in the world, until my memories gathered round me in the night. Thought I was strong until I finally had to fight. If I kept my head down and showed up to work on time and watched my appetite, put the money in the mattress, locked the doors at night then we’d all be alright.

The track builds to an impressionistic outro. Skydog slide guitar and more mantra vocals create an audio hall of mirrors. If you’re going to lift vibe from Crosby, Stills & Nash records (always a good decision), it helps to actually have Crosby, Stills or Nash on the track. Isbell’s enlisted Croz himself, aka David Crosby, for backing vocals on “What’ve I Done To Help.” (The song is also the latest in a long line of musical titles to ask a question without using a question mark.)

Isbell’s longtime backing band, The 400 Unit, features Sheffield native Jimbo Hart on bass and Tuscumbia’s Chad Gamble on drums. The group also boasts violinist/backing vocalist Amanda Shires, guitarist Sadler Vaden and keyboardist Derry deBorja. (Isbell and Shires are also married.) Isbell’s last two albums, 2017 1/4 u2032s “The Nashville Sound” and 2015 1/4 u2032s “Something More Than Free,” have won multiple Grammy Awards.

In February, Isbell gave fans their first peak at “Reunions” with the alt-rock song “Be Afraid." This week, the former Green Hill and Muscle Shoals resident performed a sold-out benefit concert in Birmingham for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones. Fans can preorder “Reunions” via jasonisbell.com. Isbell’s next scheduled shows in Alabama are March 28 at Mobile’s Saenger Theatre and March 29 at Montgomery Performing Arts Centre.

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