Tag Archives: Jason Isbell

Album Review: Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free

Rating: 9/10

Jason Isbell follows up the critically acclaimed Southeastern (2013) with Something More Than Free. He has been praised for his excellent songwriting, and while it is justified, I felt that Southeastern was dry in places because of it. This is probably just personal taste–I don’t tend to like dark albums–but though I knew him to be talented, I found that album to be pretty boring. There are a lot of Isbell lovers out there, so please understand this is in no way a reflection of his talent, just personal taste. However, I found Something More than Free to raise the bar that many felt Southeastern set–because while the excellent songwriting is still there, it is not at the expense of the melody, and these songs are much more relatable. I found much more I could connect with in this album. People who already love Isbell–and there are many–will love this album. Those who weren’t sold before–and there were many of them as well–should check this album out.

The album opens with “If it Takes a Lifetime,” which finds the narrator searching for happiness and determined to find it if it takes him a lifetime. The track is lighthearted and immediately refreshing after the general darkness of Southeastern. Next is “24 Frames,” an excellent track about how short life is and how before you know it, it could all be gone. While the message is deep, the lyrics are light, so it does not leave you feeling utterly depressed; it’s a great balance. Next is “Flagship,” and I know a lot of people like this song, but it just does not connect with me, and here’s where the album falls from a 10 to a 9. “Flagship” is a love song, and it is marked by Jason’s excellent songwriting, but for me, the lines are so “deep,” for lack of a better word, that they aren’t relatable. I like the acoustic guitar, but I am a little bored by the melody.

“How to Forget” is an upbeat song about forgetting an old love. The melody is catchy and reminds me of something a 70’s Southern rock band might have sung. “Children of Children” is autobiographical but still relatable. Here, Isbell tells of being raised by his mother, who had him when she was a teenager. “All the years I took from her, just by being born”–what an excellent line. “Life You Chose” is an upbeat song asking an old flame if she is happy in her current life. “Are you livin’ the life you chose, are you livin’ the life that chose you?”–another excellent line that will hit many differently. The title track is an excellent song where Jason sings about thanking God for the work and looking forward to the day when he will have his reward. He says he works for “something more than free.”

If you only listen to one song on this album, please make it “Speed Trap Town.” This is about a teenage boy saying goodbye to his father in a hospital bed. I will post the opening lines here, as that is what hooked me.

She said it’s none of my business, but it breaks my heart
Dropped a dozen cheap roses in my shopping cart
Made it out to the truck without breaking down
Everybody knows you in a speed trap town
Well, it’s a Thursday night, but there’s a high school game
Sneak a bottle up the bleachers and forget my name
These 5A bastards run a shallow cross
It’s a boy’s last dream, and a man’s first loss

“Hudson Commodore” is a song about an independent woman in the Great Depression. I payed more attention to the music in this song than the lyrics. This is not a bad thing, as the 400 Unit is an excellent band. The same is true for “Palmetto Rose,” a Southern rock tribute to South Carolina, which Isbell calls the “iodine state.” This is a close second to “Speed Trap Town.” The album closes with “To a Band that I Loved” which is just that–a song about a band that Jason loved. It’s a good way to close this excellent album.

This album is great, and if you like Americana or Southern rock, or if you just like good, relatable songwriting, you should check it out.

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Album Review: Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol

Rating: 9/10

Well, it has finally come–the long-awaited release of music on Fridays, and with this change, the release of arguably two of the most anticipated albums of 2015. Americana fans finally get Jason IsBell’s Something More Than Free (hopefully I will get time to review this later this week, but if not, it comes recommended), and for country fans, Alan Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol It should be noted that I like to avoid streaming albums ahead of time if at all possible, and so the first time I heard Alan Jackson’s album was when I purchased it at 6 A.M. Saturday, after two long days moving and about four hours of sleep. Having said that, this album hit me in one of the rare moments of silence I’ve had in the past week, and I’m glad to say it delivered.

The album opens with “You Can Always Come Home,” about a father telling his child to chase their dreams but to know they always have a place to come back to. The instrumentation in this song is great, with acoustic guitars and fiddles, and I found myself feeling an unintended double meaning in this song. Alan sings, “No matter how right or wrong you’ve gone, you can always come home.” After all the bro country and pop country and rock country and rap country and everything else disguised as country, this truly did feel like coming home. To have a mainstream album open with an acoustic guitar in 2015 is shocking, and in a good way. It was refreshing to say the least. The next song, “You Never Know” is a fun, upbeat song about finding love in strange places, and again the strength is the music. Here there was even a piano solo. I pay attention to lyrics more than music in songs as a rule, and the toll the false country has taken on lyrics has always hit me hardest, but this album made me really miss the country sound in a way I haven’t in a long time. I guess when you get used to hearing hip-hop and pop on country radio on a daily basis, you become immune to it.

The title track is my favorite–here the lyrics and instrumentation are both great. Alan sings, “You can’t mix angels and alcohol” and “I don’t think God meant for them to get along.” I won’t say anymore, just listen to it, it’s a great song. Next is “Gone Before You Met Me,” which describes a dream in which Alan meets Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac and has a nightmare about never meeting his wife. He wakes up to find her there and tells Tom and Jack to “ramble on without me.” It’s a song that potentially could do well on radio, and with the absence of George Strait, Alan might have a slightly better chance at airplay. “The One You’re Waiting On” is an excellent song told from the point of view of a man watching a woman across the room check her phone. She’s brushing men off and drinking wine while he speculates about whether the guy she’s waiting on is worth it. Next is the album’s lead single, “Jim and Jack and Hank,” an upbeat song about a man telling his girlfriend, as she’s leaving him, to go ahead because “I’ve got Jim and Jack and Hank.” He tells her, among other things, to “take your string bikkinis, your apple martinis” and “What’s left there in the bank.”

“I Leave a Light on” is a classic heartbreak song about leaving the light on for an ex’s memory. “Flaws” is the only flaw in the album–and it’s not a bad song, just doesn’t measure up to the rest. It tries to be too humorous and therefore loses the message a little, which is basically that no one is perfect. I honestly hated this song but the line “we’re all made with water, dirt, and grace” redeemed it somewhat. “When God Paints” follows this, wich also helps “Flaws,” because it acts as a second part to the story. It talks of the bigger picture and the amazing things that happen “when God paints.” Alan mentions that it’s not “always black-and-white or well-defined when God paints,” an excellent line. The album closes with “Mexico, Tequila, and Me” which is a song about exactly that. It’s the song that would sell on country radio, except that some bro country artist would sing it with hip-hop beats and bad rapping, whereas Alan keeps it country. So it probably won’t get airplay, but in a perfect world, it’s the kind of song that would. All in all, Angels and Alcohol is a great album, and in the absence of George Strait, Alan Jackson is our reigning country king. He has delivered, and I hope he will continue making refreshingly good country music.

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