Jason Isbell Tops Himself with 'The Nashville Sound'

Every once in a while, you hear an album that blows you away from start to finish. You get done with it and immediately think: Masterpiece. Jason Isbell did that in 2013 with Southeastern, a bona fide work of art and one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. He followed that album up with Something More Than Free in 2015, which although I did truly enjoy, was not a repeat of the near perfection of its predecessor.  

This year, Isbell comes back to us with The Nashville Sound, which, based on the title, had me hesitate momentarily. When I think of the sound of Nashville I think of all the terrible artists who currently dominate country radio, not the tremendous songwriting and Americana sound of Isbell. Once starting the album though, all slight concerns over the sound he was going to go with went right out of the window and I was hooked. He kicks it off with Last of My Kind, a ballad about the world he lives in wondering if he belongs and whether there are more like him out there. The song is vintage Isbell and I knew I was in for a great trip through the remaining 9 songs.

There is a definite change in sound throughout the album when I compare it to Southeastern and Something More Than Free. Songs like Cumberland Gap, Hope The High Road are fast paced and legitimate folk rock songs instead of “country,” and they are great. Songs like If We Were Vampires and Tupelo are slower and more in the vein of Cover Me Up off Southeastern when it comes to flexing his songwriting muscles. He even treads somewhat into politics with White Man’s World which is a direction that he received some flak for. Listening through that song, I don’t understand why anyone would have a problem with it. Despite complaints from undereducated fans, it’s not a “white guilt” song, and even it if was, it’s his damn album and he can sing about whatever he damn well pleases.

Favorite Track: Anxiety

It is extremely difficult to pick a favorite from the album, as it is all so good. I also tend to listen to the entirety of the album instead of picking a few to queue up. However, one of the best is Anxiety, where he sings of – you guessed it – dealing with anxiety. The sound and heartfelt songwriting comes through from the beginning and stays throughout the nearly 7 minute track length.

How do you always get the best of me?
I’m out here living in a fantasy.
I can’t enjoy a goddamn thing.
Why am I never where I’m supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping next to me
I’m wide awake and I’m in pain.

This is the kind of shit that will hit home for any person who struggles from time to time. Isbell has made a name for himself by singing songs just like this: songs that cut to the core and are so well done that you can’t help but feel the words as he sings them. It was ridiculous of me to worry that just because he titled his album The Nashville Sound and that he wasn’t going to hit me with songs that shake me the way Southeastern did. This album might not be quite as magnificent as Southeastern is (granted, that’s probably a top 10 album ever for me), but it doesn’t need to be in order to be tremendous. The album is worth listening through from beginning to end, and is hard to find faults other than wishing it was longer. In the end, Isbell crafted another near masterpiece that further cements his status as an all-time great in songwriting and recording.


Second Opinion
by Steve Hodge

When I first came across Jason Isbell in 2013, I was blown away by songs like Yvette, Traveling Alone, and Elephant. They struck me to the core, and it showed me how real Country and Americana could be. Isbell was not afraid to not only scratch the surface of depression and pain, but dig to the core and bring it up to light. Since then, he has released two more albums that all affect me the same way. My favorite track from the album is If We Were Vampires, which explores the idea that one day, you or your partner will pass away, so your time together means more than anything else. The album didn't strike me as much as Southeastern did, but that does not take away from the fact that this album is one of the best releases of 2017.