Monday, June 19, 2017

Music Review: The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell



Have you ever heard that old saying, "The early bird gets the worm?" My experience has proven this to be true. In 2006, my brother and I went with a group of friends to Charlotte so we could see one of our favorite bands, The Black Crowes. Being the musical enthusiasts we've always been, we showed up early so we could see the opening bands as well. The very first opener was the Drive-By Truckers who (at the time) were sporting guitar slinger/songwriter, Jason Isbell. Unfortunately, this was at a time when that era of the band was speeding into a tumultuous halt and Jason Isbell would soon no longer be a member anymore. Several albums and a couple of Grammy's later, Jason Isbell has proven he's not intimidated by unemployment.

Listening to Jason Isbell's records, with and without the Truckers, is like reading his personal journal. With the Truckers and his first few albums with his band, the 400 Unit, you get to hear the pissed off teenager/young adult with a chip on his shoulder and a substance abuse problem. His last two albums, Southeastern and Something More Than Free, found a sober-minded Jason Isbell reaching for his acoustic and tackling serious subject matter like his newfound sobriety, his relationship with Amanda Shires, and becoming an adult. I thoroughly enjoyed those two albums because they helped me through a time in my life when I was dealing with similar issues. I was anxious to see whether his new album, The Nashville Sound, would continue building the same momentum or if he would coast off the recognition he's been getting. Sometimes when an artist starts getting noticed they tend to either take a more commercial direction and isolate the fan base of their earlier material, or they just keep it cool and invite new fans to be a part of the freak show.

The answer, for me personally, is the momentum continues. The opening statement, “Last of My Kind,” is incredible. It fades in with the impression that there was a live jam in the studio which segued into the song. It fades out the same way. Jason Isbell employed Dave Cobb, once again, to produce the album and I would bet my assumptions are true given that he prefers to do everything by take instead of tracking individually. The next song, “Cumberland Gap,” will be a breath of fresh air for those who missed the in your face approach of Isbell's earlier work. “Tupelo” is another standout track for me. I could have listened to the band stretch this one out for another seven or eight minutes. It's got a nice folk rock sensibility to it with a chorus you'll be singing for days.

On “If We Were Vampires” Jason Isbell proves once again how well he can write a love song. The strange thing is this song and one of the later tracks, “Chaos and Clothes,” wouldn't feel out of place on an adult alternative playlist alongside the Head & the Heart or the Shins. Being all over the place but still making it sound like yourself seems to come naturally to Mr. Isbell. The last track of the album, “Something to Love,” brought back some of the same emotions I felt when I heard his song, “Outfit,” for the first time. These two songs sound nothing alike but they take me to the same place in my mind. As a Georgia boy who lives in California, I've journeyed far from home but sometimes someone will say or do something that takes me on a trip across the country while my body is stays one location. I'd have to say he really saved the best for last by putting this song at the very end.


As I said earlier, listening to Jason Isbell's albums is like reading his journals. The personal depth of his lyrics is what keeps me on my toes every time he announces he has a new album coming out. When I'm pissed off I can reach for one of his earlier albums and indulge in those emotions. When the sentiments of marriage and fatherhood tug at my heartstrings I can listen to this album or one of the two it was prefaced by. Jason Isbell is a very diverse artist and his music has something for everyone. The Nashville Sound is another fine chapter in the story that is Jason Isbell.

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds
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