Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit "The Nashville Sound"

What is the Nashville sound? For years that concept could be captured by the music heard on country radio stations and in the stadiums filled by fans of country music’s biggest stars. But Nashville is growing quickly and diversifying. Sturgill Simpson, Dan Auerbach, Sheryl Crow, and Jason Isbell now call it home, and with them, many more transplants with new ideas about music, politics, and the South’s legacy. Those same characteristics represent the songs on Isbell’s latest release, his third solo album since leaving The Drive By Truckers.

On his first two solo albums Isbell found inspiration in his new found sobriety, his marriage to Amanda Shire, fatherhood, and his Southern roots. The Nashville Sound finds a balance between fictional characters and Isbell’s own experiences. The songs are personal, but they’re also reflections of a country torn along social and cultural strata. Opening with “The Last of My Kind” Isbell tackles the alienation of a rural Arkansas boy as he navigates a new life in the big city. “Cumberland Gap” is a rocker that captures the bitterness of an Appalachian denizen caught yesterday and nowhere. The same goes for “Tupelo” where another man in a nowhere situation escapes to the only place no one will follow. Isbell’s angriest song “White Man’s World” examines the Isbell’s place in a new, not so great America, and what his role in creating it might be. “Anxiety” is a frenetic six-minute bruiser about the pressures that hinder Isbell’s enjoyment of life. The 400 Unit, which is credited for the first time in five years, figures prominently in the infusion of rocking energy on the album.

Isbell isn’t beyond bringing humor, pathos, and genuine sweetness to the table. “When We Were Vampires” is a bittersweet love song that captures the need to focus on the here and now in our time-limited lives. “Hope the High Road” suggest the redemption that comes from our humanity, and acts as sage advice to a younger generation. The album ends with “Something To Love” a gorgeous lullaby to Isbell’s toddler. It expresses his hope for his daughter’s future, her self-esteem, and her ability to find the things in life that make living worthwhile. It’s a lesson Isbell learned the hard way, but learned it well.

Rosemary Welsch (The Afternoon Mix)