Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

The Nashville Sound

Written by: TL on 09/07/2017 15:20:34

Alabama's Jason Isbell has been one of country music's best representatives in recent years, coming off two successive great albums in 2013's "Southeastern" and 2015's "Something More Than Free". Isbell's soulful vocal presence and penchant for emotive lyrics that consistently hit bull's eye have helped his otherwise conventional country stylings feel like something current more than just regurgitation of a long but somewhat stale tradition, making new songs from him something to always look forward to.

However, if you've seen Isbell on a few occasions, you might have noticed, that while his backing band The 400 Unit are surely some of the most soft-touched and sure-handed players in the land, the more room they get in his music, the more what the thing that makes him really special kind of shrinks. Things can feel like they become more "country music master class" than "folk songwriting and storytelling that has you right on the edge of your seat".

That's why it's been mildly concerning that this year's Isbell album "The Nashville Sound" credits the band on the cover, and while the difference to a first-time listener is probably barely noticeable, the songwriting here does have more the feel of a band record than a singer-songwriter record. It's as if the signatures and structures were worked out first and have been governing in how Isbell has filled lyrics in and how he's chosen to sing about things, and that's a bit of a shame considering how he's previously been able to hit the nail on the head when the lyrics were of primary importance.

It's conjecture of course, but just one suggestion at an explanation for why "The Nashville Sound" doesn't cut as deep as often as you'd hope for. The single about married life, "If We Were Vampires", was otherwise cause to get's one's hopes up, showcasing Isbell at his usual best, but a song like "Anxiety", while quite catchy actually, has straight up weird composition, starting and ending like a bombastic, dramatic folk-rock epic, yet being a relatively mellow and standard Isbell song in everything that's between the in- and outro.

Then there's "White Man's World", also a catchy enough song with a bluesy twang to it, but the socio-criticism of it feels a bit superficial, similarly to "Last Of My Kind", which honestly comes off a bit cliché with its "the world isn't what it has been" sentiment. There's "Tupelo" and "Molotov", which again are pleasant enough on the ears, yet feel like songs Isbell could write left-handed at this point.

Overall, it's not that Jason Isbell disappoints, that's too much to say, because "The Nashville Sound" is catchy enough and its songs stand out nicely from each other, it's just that it rarely really goes to where Isbell is best, namely where the arrangements are the most minimal and the lyrics are the most intimate and sharp.


Download: If We Were Vampires, Anxiety, White Man's World, Chaos And Clothes
For The Fans Of: Ryan Adams, Glen Hansard, John Moreland
Listen: facebook.com/jasonisbellmusic

Release date 16.06.2017
Southeastern Records

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