Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
The Nashville Sound
Release Date: June 16, 2017
If Southeastern and Something More Than Free were underpinned by Isbell’s marriage to Amanda Shires and his consequent sorting out of his life, The Nashville Sound takes us into fatherhood and family as well as enduring love. He still tells those fine stories of ordinary people and their struggles, but there’s a solid, personal emotional core here, too.
At his best, Jason Isbell has an almost magical ability to produce a song of such distinctive lyrical and musical brilliance that you feel that no-one else could have done that. I think the three opening tracks here are all very good (when is he not?) but for me they don’t quite have that real magical spark – and then we get to “White Man’s World,” a brilliant, bitter reflection on where his country and the world are heading. It’s followed by “If We Were Vampires,” a wonderfully poignant and powerful love song, sung as a duet with the excellent Amanda Shires. Then comes “Anxiety,” and “Molotov.” All of these tracks are classic Isbell songs with great, haunting tunes, good harmonic structures and terrific lyrics. The man has still got it – he really has.
Just as a couple of small examples, there is biting social comment like this brilliantly concise couplet:
“I’m a white man living on a white man’s street / I got the bones of the red man under my feet” (from “White Man’s World”), and really moving expressions of love and tenderness like this from “If We Were Vampires”: “It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever; / Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone./ Maybe we’ll get forty years together, But one day I’ll be gone, Or one day you’ll be gone.”
That lyric touches me every time I hear it.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Isbell is a great singer and a fine guitarist and The 400 Unit are tight and sympathetic to the songs. (I saw them earlier this year in London, and they were excellent live, too.) The album is very well produced and recorded, and it’s just a great listen.
Jason Isbell is a genuinely class act both as a writer and performer. I’m not yet sure whether this has the consistent brilliance to be classed with Southeastern, which is a genuinely great album, in my view, but it is very, very good and contains songs which will be regarded as classics. It’s one of my albums of the year so far and I can recommend it very warmly.
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About Our Reviewer
Sid Nuncius lives in London. He is a retired physics teacher who has been a lifelong reader and lover of a wide range of music. He began writing reviews as a hobby about ten years ago. You can read more of his music reviews at http://nunciusmusicreviews.blogspot.com and his strictly classical music reviews at http://sidsclassicalreviews.blogspot.co.uk/.