I suppose if you’re going to title your latest album The Nashville Sound, you better be pretty sure that what you’re producing is the sound of Nashville.
That’s not something that Jason Isbell, formerly of the beloved Drive-By Truckers, has to worry about.
Isbell’s latest release captures the spirit of the Nashville singer-songwriter, with all of its despair, grit and seemingly required substance abuse, and does it in a way that not a lot of other artists can.
It is one of my favorite things about the album – the way that Isbell really makes you feel the emotions he’s going for when he sings about some of these topics.
It is clear that they weigh heavily on Isbell; many of the songs deal with things like being an outsider, the struggle with addiction and rural politics.
Of course, not everything Isbell has to say on the subjects is particularly illuminating or thought-provoking.
The song “White Man’s World,” for example, is a very well-meaning song about white privilege and the way it affects the world, but it comes across as a little trite and flat.
Example: “There’s no such thing as someone else’s war/Your creature comforts aren’t the only thing worth fighting for.”
Things overall work better when Isbell keeps it a little closer to home, like on the song “Cumberland Gap,” about the way small towns and the bars within them have a way of sucking you in and keeping their grasp on you.
“There’s an answer here, if I look hard enough/There’s a reason I always reach for the harder stuff.”
This is typical singer-songwriter stuff, but it sounds really nice. A lot of that is due to the gruff vocals Isbell provides, but a lot of credit is due to the 400 Units, Isbell’s backing group that features, among others, his wife, Amanda Shires, who plays the fiddle.
The pair is featured on the song “If We Were Vampires,” a delightful ballad and an ode to true love.
Delightful might be a bit of a misnomer, as the song deals with appreciating the time you have with that special someone, all the while knowing that eventually one of you will die, leaving the other alone for a while.
“Maybe we’ll get 40 years together, but one day I’ll be gone/ and you’ll be gone.”
This is a grittier sound (though not as gritty as his Drive-By-Truckers days) than the majority of country stars are producing these days, so if you think the genre needs a little more Johnny Cash and less Blake Shelton, then you’ll probably enjoy this a lot.
Personally, I liked the overall vibe the record gives than most of the songs in general.
It’s definitely something I would throw on while visiting family in West Virginia, just because of the way it captures a simpler, more blue collar existence that increasingly gets pushed to the margins.