All of Jason Isbell’s new Southeastern LP deserves a spin, but if there’s just one introduction to the set, this heartbreaker would be the one. “Elephant” even recalls Sufjan Stevens’ great dirge “Casimir Pulaski Day” a bit, both in terms of subject matter (a loved one suffering from cancer) and the way in which they both weave the heavy narrative from a part-fiction and part-true point of view. Here’s what Isbell told MTV Hive on the track’s inspiration:
They’re all based on things that really happened, but that one, like almost all the songs I write, has characters that are based on other characters. The two people in that song aren’t two people that I know, but each of them is two or three people that I know. That relationship in that particular song became very important to me. I wept for those two people, even though they don’t exist in real life. But it was an amalgamation of people I’ve known that have dealt with that kind of thing.
Just before the album arrived a few weeks ago, Isbell performed an excellent take for SiriusXM. Watch his moving live rendition above and revisit the studio cut here.