The Nashville Sound, from Jason Isbell. Record Review.

June 12, 2017 | By

I’m just going to say it … Jason Isbell is one of the great songwriters of our time.

When I first heard that his new album, The Nashville Sound, was coming I got excited, and when the pre-release tracks started showing up, I pre-ordered the album, something I don’t often do, and got right into them.

Hope The High Road” and “Cumberland Gap” were the first two, and I liked them both. They were strong indications that the new record might have, for lack of a better word, a tougher sound. That was fine with me, as I knew for sure and for certain that whatever the sound, the record would be about the words … the songs.

Then we got to hear “If We Were Vampires“. A curious title from an Americana songwriter, but it really only took one listen for the whole idea to make sense, and for the song to become my favourite Jason Isbell song.

It is, quite simply, an utterly gorgeous and thoughtful depiction of married love and the fear of loss that drives intimacy.

“It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever,
It’s likely one of us will have to spend some time alone.
Maybe we’ll get 40 years together
But one day I’ll be gone, or one day you’ll be gone.”

The final early release track was “White Man’s World“. Did I say Vampires was my new favourite Isbell tune? Well maybe.

WMW is, essentially, four minutes addressing the wide, wide scope of the negative effects of white male privilege, and the hopelessness it can engender. It is a protest song.

I’m a white man living in a white man’s nation.
I think the man upstairs must have took a vacation.
I still have faith but I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s the fire in my little girl’s eyes.

Now that I’ve had the chance to hear the full album, sequenced as Jason intended, these four exceptional individual songs seem to grow larger in context. Not because the rest of the record isn’t as good … it absolutely is. Rather, the balance and the range of musical expression which I have come to expect from a Jason Isbell record is all there.

There are quiet songs, and there are songs which approach the rock end of the Americana spectrum, but through it all, there are the words … the stories … the ideas, just as I was certain that there would be.

Last of My Kind”, the opening track is a meditation on the idea of feeling like a throw back to days that are seemingly gone forever in the 21st Century from the perspective of a farmer’s son. It is not the only character driven story song on The Nashville Sound. We’ve become familiar with these songs on Jason’s previous records, and they are here, to be sure.

The record is, at the end of the day, a pretty clear representation of Isbell’s new priorities in life, discovered since his marriage to Amanda Shires and the birth of their daughter, Mercy.

The chorus of “Molotov”, might be the best quick capsule of this overall theme.

I broke a promise to myself
To ride the throttle till the wheel’s came off
Burn out like a Molotov
In the night sky
I broke a promise to myself
And made a couple to a brown eyed girl
Who rode with me through the mean old world
Never say die.”

The album drops Friday, June 9.

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Category: Record Reviews

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