Jason Isbell has dominated the Country music press scene these past few months, and with good reason. He’s established himself as one of the most poignant songwriters in the industry, with a knack for top-notch storytelling and extraordinary character development. If you want to familiarize yourself with Isbell but don’t know where to start, trust our expert opinions and take a listen to these five tracks.
“Elephant” (from Southeastern)
It’s unlikely you’ll find a song that’s more well written or heart wrenching as “Elephant”. What many consider to be a modern day classic, “Elephant” is a beautiful portrayal of a man bonding with a woman fighting cancer, painted with vivid details and dialogue that helps one truly relate and appreciate the emotive storytelling that’s going on within the lyrics. Combined with Isbell’s textured vocals and the stripped down, acoustic production, you have what is as close to a perfect record as you can get. Everybody should hear this song, it is a true masterpiece through and through.
“Songs That She Sang In The Shower” (from Southeastern)
On an album full of emotional, heart wrenching tunes, “Songs That She Sang In The Shower” is one of the best among them, with it’s heart-wrenching lyrical content of a man haunted by his spouse and it’s chorus that, although begging for explosiveness, is restrained and effective with it’s booming title hook. Isbell tackles the content with immense proficiency, wrapping his textured voice around each syllable. “Songs That She Sang In The Shower” is an intense, and ultimately rewarding listening experience, and one that sums up Isbell’s artistry perfectly.
“Dress Blues” (from Sirens In the Ditch)
You may recognize the title “Dress Blues”, and that’s because it was covered by the Zac Brown Band on their latest album, Jekyll + Hyde. While their version is excellent and certainly worth recognizing, it pales in comparison to the original, due to Isbell being a more textured and more rough-around-the-edges vocally than Brown, which helps add fervor and grit appropriately to the lyrical content. “Dress Blues” is a detailed, vividly illustrated song about war, and the close-to-home tragedies that go along with it, held together by a borderline anthemic chorus. With any luck, Brown will decide to release this brilliantly penned tune to radio. It’s a heart breaking song that could easily connect among listeners, and without question deserves a bigger audience.
Listen: “Dress Blues” (Live)
Listen: “Dress Blues” (Zac Brown Band Version)
“Traveling Alone” (from Southeastern)
Yet another ballad off Southeastern, “Traveling Alone” tells the story of a trucker that comes to the realization of his loneliness, both on his literal journey, as well as his journey of life. Built around a hook of “I’ve grown tired of traveling alone”, the story is vividly painted with added intrigue coming from the fact that this is not something that has been nagging the narrator for long, but rather something that has built up inside of him over the course of an extended period of time. Much like “Songs That She Sang In the Shower”, “Traveling Alone” is almost a rootsy power ballad, with a memorable chorus anchoring what is one of Isbell’s finest moments.
Listen: “Traveling Alone”
“Something More Than Free” (from Something More Than Free)
The single best song of 2015 to-date, “Something More Than Free” is a glorious record that depicts the life of a working class man who, despite not having much, thanks god that he has a source of income. It seamlessly blends subtle anthemic qualities with the raw emotion that’s signature of Country and Americana, while also incorporating Gospel elements that adds another layer of intrigue and intricacy to the song. In addition to the stunning and poignant lyricism, Isbell delicately croons over top of a gentle, stripped down acoustic arrangement as well as a melody that both parts accessible and well-crafted. “Something More Than Free”, the title track off Isbell’s latest record, is an absolute masterpiece in all regards, and represents the standard upon which music of all genres should be held.
Listen: “Something More Than Free”