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Jason Isbell: “The Nashville Sound”

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jun 26, 2017
Category: Rock

Early in 2016, I encouraged you to pay attention to Something More Than Free. It went on to win two Grammy Awards (Best Americana Album & Best American Roots Song) and two Americana Music Association Awards (Album of the Year & Song of the Year). Now Jason Isbell is back, with the ironically titled “The Nashville Sound.” (Ironic, because the Nashville sound is what you hear on country radio. Odds do not favor those stations will soon be playing “Hope the High Road.”)

I saw Jason Isbell in New York last week. The audience stood when he walked on stage and never sat down. They knew what they were getting, and they were hungry for it: human-scaled art, deep truth captured in the moment when the thoughts and feelings are fresh. And he writes simply — his lyrics would make great t-shirt slogans. [He’s touring through the summer; here’s the tour schedule. To buy “The Nashville Sound” from Amazon and get an MP3 download free, click here. For the MP#3 download, click here.]

You kids avoid entire CDs. But please just listen to two songs.

First: “If We Were Vampires.” Reading the lyrics, English majors will flash on the famous lines in the Auden poem, The More Loving One: “If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.” [To buy this song on Amazon, click here.]

It’s not the long, flowing dress that you’re in
Or the light coming off of your skin
The fragile heart you protected for so long
Or the mercy in your sense of right and wrong
It’s not your hands searching slow in the dark
Or your nails with your lover’s watermark
It’s not the way you talk me off the roof
Your questions like directions to the truth

It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone
Or one day you’ll be gone

If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind

Hits hard, doesn’t it? Don’t you wish you’d written it? I do.

The other is what would be the single from the CD: “Hope the High Road.” [To buy it from Amazon, click here.]

I used to think that this was my town
What a stupid thing to think
I hear you’re fighting off a breakdown
I myself am on the brink
I used to want to be a real man
I don’t know what that even means
Now I just want you in my arms again
And we can search each other’s dreams

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

I’ve heard enough of the white man’s blues
I’ve sang enough about myself
So if you’re looking for some bad news
You can find it somewhere else
Last year was a son of a bitch
For nearly everyone we know
But I ain’t fighting with you down in a ditch
I’ll meet you up here on the road

We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in
To a world you want to live in

It feels, this week, like this is the song of the month.