Words in and of themselves are wondrous things. But when you string them together in a story, a poem, a sonnet or a song, they can transcend time and space. They can evoke the most beautiful memories and stir up the biggest regrets. In a world so filled with chaos and madness, in a time where insanity seems to be taking over, they offer us something to hold onto. A hope that’s hard to find elsewhere. They offer magic. And if words hold magic, Jason Isbell is a sorcerer of the highest order. His songs are so utterly enchanting that they seem to heal us, from somewhere deep inside the soul. Not because they are always filled with beauty, but because they often aren’t. Isbell understands human beings at our core. He feels our pain, fears our fears, loves as deeply as we’ve ever imagined and despite every bad thing going on in the world, he offers us hope.
The way he’s able to make us feel with the stroke of a pen. The innate ability to see into souls. To understand the complexities of emotions. To grasp the tiniest feelings. To see beauty and sadness and anger and joy and fear in even the most mundane. To understand love and it’s complexities. Jason Isbell’s lyrics are a gift. And his latest Album, The Nashville Sound, is a balm for our angry, helpless and desperate souls when we most needed it.
Highlights of the album include “Hope The High Road” which is about not sinking to the levels of those who want to wrestle in the mud. It’s about remaining good and kind and caring, despite living in an America where our very own President lives down in the gutter and tries to take us with him.
It’s an affirmation that we will triumph and we outnumber the dark . I get goosebumps when I hear Jason sing ” There can’t be more of them then us, there can’t be more”, because I know it’s true. There are more of us. And decency is not gone.
Another highlight of the album is what I imagine will become a Jason Isbell anthem. The gorgeous and breathtakingly sad and beautiful “If We Were Vampires”,
a duet with his wife and the bands fiddle player, Amanda Shires. The song is a hauntingly beautiful reminder that we will not be here forever and that each day you have someone to love is a precious gift not to be taken for granted. That one day, those we love will be gone. The line “The way you talk me off the roof, your questions like directions to the truth” makes us long for that person that we can walk through life with. Our own beacon of light that helps us find the way when we are most lost. A sentence that says so much more than could ever be expected in such an economy of words.
Isbell’s introspective nature is evidenced in the songs “White Mans World” with lyrics that address war, racism and misogyny and the fact that he still has faith, despite the madness in the world. His love for his daughter and hopes for her future are also laced throughout the album.
Uptempo songs such as “Cumberland Gap” and “Hope the High Road” are balanced by the introspective and haunting “If We Were Vampires” and “Anxiety”. But the album also contains songs such as the melodious and very different sound of “Chaos and Clothes,” in which Jason experiments with sounds he has not before and hint at the great things still to come with this artist.
Isbell, who began his career in my all-time favorite band, Drive-By Truckers, has always been an old school story-teller. But as he distances himself further from the bottle (He’s been sober for a couple of years now) and matures as a man, husband and father, his songs are only becoming more achingly lovely. Maybe it’s because he’s grown or maybe it’s because he now has so much to lose. Either way, this album is the most beautiful of the year. And if you don’t listen, it’s a damn shame.