Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
What's more metal than a songwriter flipping the script on the country/folk/americana genre by singing about real life and not the lost my dog/wife/truck script? A self admitted recovering drugger and drinker who was kicked out of alt country Drive By Truckers after hitting rock bottom. Fortunately for his fans, he was able to kick the drinking and drugging to write some amazing records. His latest "The Nashville Sound" continues to spin heads as he writes about racism and the burdens women (specifically his wife and daughter) face as they strive to do something groundbreaking.
I first came across Jason during an interview with Marc Maron a few years ago. He spoke about getting sober, his influences(Muscle Shoals) and his relationship with his former band mates. He ended the podcast singing Elephant, a song that touches upon barflies, cancer and death. The album, "Southeastern" which he had just released and was promoting during the podcast completely hooked me. SO many incredibly touching songs that dealt with a whole lotta topics you never hear about in Rock let alone Country.
His followup, "Something More Than Free", garnered a ton of attention across the Country, Rock and Folk charts, cementing him as one of the leaders of the Outlaw Country movement. Along with the likes of Shooter Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, Isbell has broken the country genre barriers and reached the ears of a larger audience. An audience that's as in tune with social media as they are with John Deere tractors. With popular podcasters like Marc Maron and Joe Rogan singing the praises of this movement, the new generation of outlaw country artists have become mainstream.
The more I listen to this record, the more I'm convinced that Isbell could be to this generation what Springsteen was in the 80's during the height of "Born in the Usa". In many cases "The Nashville Sound" is earnest rock and roll with it's "small town-remember the way it was" themes. Isbell's songwriting is so next level that it's timeless. Tracks like Cumberland Gap, Anxiety and the slightly psychedelic Molotov offer plenty of a big rock sound you'd never imagine to hear on an radio ready modern country album. The early Beatles-esque Chaos and Clothes offers a nice bit of unorthodoxy in it's build and rhythm including some nice reverse guitar spliced in for good measure. White Man's World, the most talked about track on the album encapsulates Isbell's thoughts about racial privilege and sexual inequality. The super tear jerky songwriting on If We Were Vampires cuts it's own notch on the bed post of classic love songs. Hope the High Road and Something to Love cap off the album with uplifting messages about making the best of whatever situation you're in and finding the motivation to keep you going when times are tough. Can't find fault with ending a great album on a high note.
I will rarely devote time to writing about Non Metal albums but such a worthy candidate of Album of the Year in so many categories begs for a few of my words on the matter. If you don't own at least one of the the last Jason Isbell records you're missing out on what's going on in the world of songwriting. These albums have been ground breaking and will likely spawn the next generation of great country/folk and rock acts. Hear me out, I'm not a country fan in the sense of what's on the radio these days or anything really outside of the classic outlaw country musicians (Cash and Willie to be specific). This is a great band and album hands down. Pick up "The Nashville Sound" and give it a few spins, they'll be plenty of time to thrash and head bang to whatever we'll find next in our daily dive into obscure metal on band camp later.