On Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s new song “Be Afraid,” the group’s first from their forthcoming album (details below,) Byrds-like guitar chimes atop stuttering then steady driving beat then Isbell confesses “We’ve been testing you, and you failed / To see how long that you could sit with the truth, but you bailed.”
Like the quote, most times attributed to John Wayne “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”
Isbell urges to “Be afraid, be very afraid’ but also as words of encouragement to himself as well as the listener to “But do it anyway / Do it anyway.”
And in the bridge, he sings We don’t take requests / We won’t shut up and sing.”
I assume (yes I know) that there’s some political statement here about how some listers asking performers that state an opinion (usually on social media or live performances) to “shut up and sing.” Though I believe the ire of the audience has more to do with the tendency of those opinions to be in dogmatic lock-step with much entertainment industry.
Though it is undoubtedly an Isbell-style rocker, two things came to mind when listening to this song. How much it reminds me in theme and tone of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” and how neatly this song would fit into his old band, The Drive-By Trucker’s current release “The Unraveling.”
“Be Afraid” is from Isbell’s upcoming Dave Cobb produced 10-song album titled ‘Reunions.’ out May 15th.