‘Something More Than Free’, by Jason Isbell, picks up where his critically acclaimed ‘Southeastern’ left off. Its’ final track ‘Relatively Easy’, left the listener reflecting that perhaps, for all our hurts, heartbreaks and struggles, we’ve all had it relatively easy, compared to a lot of other folks in the world. Isbell’s new musical offering carries this vein of thought through to the end of the album.
That’s not to say that there’s no unhappy tales or songs that leave you a little less comfortable than when you sat down. It’s just the body count isn’t as high, and Isbell has come at the songs from a different angle. Something that speaks to having been given that beautiful gift of perspective, and to still be standing when coming out the other side.
“You gotta try and keep yourself naïve/ And in spite of all the evidence believe.” (Flagship)
Instrumentally the album is very different from ‘Southeastern’. For one it is more subdued; the struggle that its’ predecessor had running through it is no more. There’s a quiet sense of a peace and acceptance in the songs.
’24 Frames’, the lead single from the album, pulls from the indie rock persuasion, with ‘The Life You Chose’ feeling like a throwback to the sounds of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ and that era of things no longer being idyllic; of idealistic youth fading away to age old cynicism.
‘Something More Than Free’ has it’s own distinct heartbeat; it’s own groove and rhythm. ‘If It Takes a Lifetime’ with it’s honky-tonk vibe running throughout; ‘How To Forget You’, a mix traditional country with the wistfulness of early ‘70s music, that you could imagine joining you on long journeys across open plains; and ‘Palmetto Rose’, a dirty blues-rock hybrid with it’s own kind of musical swagger and groove.‘
The dark, brooding Americana is still present but is no longer the dominant sound on the record, except for the bittersweet ‘Children of Children’, an ode to his parents generation; ‘Speed Trap Down’, telling the story of a son’s complicated relationship with his dying father;
“He was a tough State Trooper a decade ago/ When a girl that wasn’t Momma caused his heart attack/ He didn’t care about us when he was walking around/ Just pulling women over in a speed trap town.”
And the closing track, ‘To a Band That I Loved’ with its’ eerie guitar opening, creating an atmosphere of empty concert halls, and ghosts permeating the walls but never hanging around for very long.
“May you find what you gave/ All that hope/ Somewhere down at the end of your rope.
Something More Than Free’ is intent on accepting what has gone before with the sole purpose of making the future your own, not making it your parents’ past. In the title track Isbell sings, “What I’m looking for is something more than free”, something all these songs, from the saddest ode to a dying father, to the hopeful blue collar worker’s push for happiness, have in common.
‘Something More Than Free’, produced by Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Anderson East) is out today.