Album of the Week: Jason Isbell, 'Something More Than Free'

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Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free (Courtesy of Thirty Tigers)

Jason Isbell enjoyed his critical and popular high-water mark in 2013 with the release of Southeastern, an often stark account of his recovery from substance abuse. It was a record that expanded Isbell's exposure beyond the realm of mere Americana, and fully established him as one of the premier songwriting talents in popular music. Southeastern was full of instantly iconic moments, so with his new record, Something More Than Free, Isbell doesn't try to make any big brass-ring grab, nor does he delve further inward to plum even more trenchant depths. This is a quiet record, with ample room for self-reflection, with vivid character studies and moments of insight.

Whether by design or by luck, Isbell's lead singles have tended to be the ones that sunk their hooks into me; he has a knack for writing lines that, on their own, can single-handedly reel in a listener. "24 Frames" hinges on a central metaphor equating God to "a pipe bomb," rather than a guiding force, and this volatility persists throughout the record. As with most of Isbell's songs — as with life — there is the constant threat that anything could turn bad in a moment. At the same time, the characters on Something More Than Free are cautiously hopeful that their lives will take a turn for the better, maybe just a little further up the road. After the harrowing Southeastern, the sentiments of Something More Than Free are a nice dose of hope.

Something More Than Free is a record that lends itself to contemplation, while still leaving room to enjoy Isbell's growth as a songwriter. Whether or not Isbell could classify his recent years as a "comeback," it is a welcome trend nonetheless.

Audience ratings for this album


Among The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album, more than 83 percent gave it 5 stars out of 5. Poll closed at 1 p.m. on Friday, July 17.

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