Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
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The Nashville Sound (Southeastern, 2017)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Jason Isbell's "The Nashville Sound" doesn't cause the immediate buzz of the singer/songwriter's previous efforts, so you may need to give it a little time to grow on you. But because Isbell simply doesn't make bad records, this one's just good in different ways, with a longer release cycle.

The best one may well be the last track, "Something to Love." It's serves as a kind of folkish benediction where Isbell wishes whomever has ears to hear to find hope and purpose. Over an acoustic arrangement, Isbell shows us his hand by describing memorable times as a youngster singing and playing on the front porch. He found what he loves early on and prays others experience that same lifelong pleasure.

Isbell reminds us all that there's also a darker side than the front porch guitar pulls of his youth, however. "White Man's World" is a thumping indictment of white privilege, and there's more that "creature comforts" worth fighting for. Then with "If We Were Vampires," Isbell sings a most unusual love song. Most romantic songs speak about being together forever, but Isbell blurts out, "It's knowing that this can't go on forever/Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone." Talk about a romantic buzz kill! "If We Were Vampires" once again reveals Isbell's acoustic musical side, which - while not as sonically powerful as either "Cumberland Gap" or "Anxiety" herein - is so effective, one wants him to turn to it far more often.

It's easy to feel a little let down when Isbell releases an album that doesn't entirely blow you away. That is, of course, until you compare it side by side with most other lame mainstream country albums. "The Nashville Sound" is both personal and political, and an album that will win you over in the end - if you let it.

CDs by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Weathervanes, 2023 Georgia Blue, 2021 Reunions, 2020 Live at the Ryman, 2018 The Nashville Sound, 2017 Southeastern, 2013 Here We Rest, 2011 Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, 2009

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