Something More Than Free
Jason Isbell followed up his 2013 breakthrough Southeastern with an album that followed a similar template musically. But while the songs on Southeastern were often personal and autobiographical, Isbell’s songs on Something More Than Free often take the vantage point of an outsider looking in, often empathetic stories from America’s heartland; the narrator on the excellent title track is too tired to go to Church, but thankful for the work. If this already sounds reminiscent of Springsteen, it’s perhaps not a coincidence that there are songs named ‘Speed Trap Town’ and ‘Hudson Commodore’.
After enjoying Southeastern instantly, it took me longer to appreciate Something More Than Free; mostly because it starts with the generic ‘If It Takes A Lifetime’; an upbeat country song that deals in the clichés that Isbell generally avoids. But further in there are plenty of treasures; I assumed ‘To A Band I Loved’ was a tribute to his former band-mates in The Drive-By Truckers, but it’s actually about Centro-Matic, while ’24 Frames’ and ‘The Life You Chose’ are immediate and propulsive. The line “are you living the life you chose/are you living the life that chose you?” is evidence of Isbell’s skill as a lyricist.
Isbell’s ability to seamlessly slide into another mode of song-writing on Something More Than Free is evidence of his skill, and it’s another very substantial effort.