Alabama-born Jason Isbell has become one of the country’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters. His last two albums debuted atop the country and rock charts and each won him a pair of Grammys.
But he recorded his new album, “Reunions,” in what now seems like another time. It will be released Friday, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s not what I planned on, but I would have been super disappointed if I had to wait,” Isbell told “CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason. “And I think, you know, people don’t need music any less right now than they will a year from now.”
He needs it even more now, he said. “I need to feel a connection with people.”
On their farm outside Nashville, Isbell and his wife, the musician Amanda Shires, have been hunkering down at home with their 4-year-old daughter, Mercy.
Mercy can tell something is different, Isbell said.
“She even kind of misses being on tour ’cause, you know, she goes on tour with us. So she’s said a few times, ‘Can we pretend we’re in a hotel today, Daddy?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’” he said.
Isbell said he doesn’t know when he will be back on tour.
“Sometimes I let myself think about how nice it will be to play shows again with my band and with an audience and ride around and see new things, but I don’t stay there for too awful long ’cause then I get sad,” he said.
He has found this time challenging, he told Mason. “You know, we lost John Prine a month ago, and that’s been devastating for us.”
Prine died of the coronavirus in early April. Isbell and Shires both had performed on his final album, “The Tree of Forgiveness,” and had toured with the revered singer-songwriter.
“When John passed, it occurred to me that, you know, there’s no such thing as overreacting at this point because if John’s loss had been the only one, it would still be enough to keep us in the house for however long it takes,” Isbell said.
So, he’s been performing his new music from the studio in his barn. Isbell has said that he dealt with a lot of ghosts on his new record.
“I didn’t know that’s what was happening while I was writing the songs,” he said.
One of those ghosts was his own: the alcoholic Isbell before his recovery eight years ago.
“For the first few years after I got sober and straightened my life up, it was dangerous for me to forgive myself,” Isbell said. “Because I didn’t want to turn back into that guy.”
“You’re okay being with that guy again?” Mason asked.
“Yeah, for once, and it’s taken a long time ’cause, I mean, everybody has that friend that, you know, they can’t hang out with ’cause it’s like, if I go out with that guy tonight, I’m going to wind up in trouble. Well, that was my own self, you know?” Isbell said.
Isbell said the pressure to live up to his earlier albums also meant “Reunions” had a somewhat tortured birth.
“We could have had a better time, but I don’t think we could have made a better album,” he said. “And, you know, now the album’s done. We can have a good time now.”