Written by James Killen
I couldn’t let the year get past me without saying something about this great disc from the former Drive By Trucker, Jason Isbell. He’s been turning out some amazing from-the-gut compositions that hit all corners of life head on. “The Nashville Sound” did not disappoint me.
He starts the CD off with “Last of My Kind”, lyrically borrowing syntax from John Prine to tell the story of a small town kid trying to find his way in a faster, less empathetic urban environment to the accompaniment of piano, fiddle and guitar. From that Jason shocks the listener awake with the a rocking “Cumberland Gap”, power chords expressing the frustrations of living in an Appalachian coal town and trying to break free of the multi-generational grasp of the life in the mines. On “Tupelo”, Isbell gets the country rock mix right in line with the Eagles sound from the “Desperado” years, and features a tasty slide lead.
Hardly one to let the opportunity to make a social statement pass, “White Man’s World” deals with complacency in the current racial equality discussion revolving around the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The song features a down and dirty slide and a fiery fiddle solo. Isbell cuts it back to a gentle but quirky love song in “If We Were Vampires”, ruing the day that death breaks the relationship and leaves one of the partners alone. The song is predominantly played as a simple acoustic guitar melody, but presents a unique view of love lasting through a whole life as few songs do these days.
“Anxiety” begins with an almost classical crescendo and recognizes the weakness that haunts so many of us, manifesting itself as a lapse in the basic faith that allows us each to meet the world each day, and ends with a classically inspired movement to top it off. It is an almost, but not quite regretful retrospective look at one’s life on “Molotov”, as a couple trades in their wild youth for the responsibility of making a family. Isbell follows that with an acoustic tale of the end of a relationship on, “Chaos and Clothes”, as his lover leaves him for another.
“Hope the High Road” is a fantastically inspiring anthem of facing adversity head on and winning personal goals and features a great slide solo. “Something to Love” grabs images from one’s past to aspire to winning one’s personal battles and finding peace in the traditions that one has been raised in. It has a great acoustic solo in the midst of a fateful well-wishing prayer.
This CD moves quite methodically out of the rural south and back home to it through the ten cuts. If you are a Jason Isbell fan, this one is well worth a careful listen. If you are not, I’m kind of wondering why….