Jason Isbell is extremely busy these days, but he made a promise and he’s going to fulfill it. Last year, Isbell pledged that that he’d record an album of covers dedicated to the state of Georgia if Georgia helped elect Joe Biden president. Georgia held up its side of the bargain, clinching Biden’s victory and flipping the Senate for Democrats. (Grumble grumble Senate grumble Manchin Sinema grumble.) And now Isbell and his 400 Unit are getting ready to release their Georgia Blue album. We’ve already heard their cover of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8,” and now Isbell has dropped his version of a canonical soul classic that’s both from Georgia and about Georgia.
In 1973, Atlanta legends Glady Knight & The Pips scored their only Hot 100 chart-topper with “Midnight Train To Georgia,” an absolutely perfect song about being in love with the asshole who thought he could go be a big deal in Los Angeles. Now: “Midnight Train” to Georgia is not an easy song to cover. It’s built around a lot of things that are basically impossible to replicate: Gladys Knight’s gale-force howl, the deep and comforting lope of the groove, the perfectly-timed interjections of the Pips. But for their version, Isbell and the 400 Unit have help.
In their version, Isbell and the 400 Unit basically become Pips for Brittney Spencer, a Nashville-based country singer-songwriter with a massive voice that can actually do a lot of those Gladys Knight things. This is a good thing. Isbell has a cool voice, but he could not sing lead on this thing. John Paul White, formerly one half of the Civil Wars, also helps out, and the cover works pretty well! It’s not the original, but “Midnight Train To Georgia” plays nicely as soul-inflected country. Listen to the Isbell cover and the still-amazing original below.
Georgia Blue is out 10/15 on Isbell’s own Southeastern label. All proceeds go to benefit Black Voters Matter, Fair Fight, and Georgia STAND-UP. Pre-order the album here.