Jason Isbell has to be up there with the best songwriters on the planet just now. His last album Southeastern was a surprise revelation and the much more anticipated Something More Than Free does not disappoint.
Every line, melody and riff sounds at the same time fresh but oh so comfortably familiar. You can hear echoes of John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee period on If It Takes A Lifetime. Springtseen’s 80s strut is conjured on Palmetto Rose which might be one of those Bruce songs of instant political comment; the Charlestown Church shooting seems to be on Isbell’s mind. Flagship has the frayed married weariness of another Springsteen record, Tunnel Of Love. Steve Earle’s Guitar Town is all over Speed Trap Town and The Life You Chose too.
Such a review would suggest a cheapskate copycat stealing his heroes ideas. Yet, it is not like that at all. Somehow when all the influences blend into Isbell’s own voice he ends up sounding more authentic than any of the aforementioned and, let me dare to be labelled a musical heretic, a more naturally gifted writer. No he will not hold a stadium in the palm of his hand like the Boss does, for 3 and 4 hours at a time, but Bruce dreams of this guy’s ease with hooks and rhymes.
These are songs of tough life, real love, the importance of family and vocation and all the hurt and heartbreak that is wrapped in the choices of the lives we make. Isbell can spin a tale. He loves the detail and always sees the universal truths tucked away in every day ordinary lives. Nothing is throwaway. Everything is insightful. Best of all the lyrics grab you with memorable little explosions of thoughtfulness, always dressed in gently catchy hooks. Best explosion of all has to be in 24 Frames:
"You thought God was an architect
Now you know
He's something like a pipe bomb
Ready to blow
And everything you built that's all for show
Goes up in flames
In 24 Frames"
For my other Favourite albums of the summer click here
For my review of Jason Isbell's Southeastern click here