Heartbreak Wrapped In Hope
Since his departure from the Drive By Truckers in 2007, Jason Isbell’s always formidable skill as a songwriter and lyricist have intensified as much as they have matured. Something More Than Free continues to see Isbell drift away from the hard-edged, southern rock of his former band, drawing closer towards a softer, more introspective sound that calls to mind Paul Simon’s singer/songwriter folk and Dolly Parton’s take on Nashville country. Still present are the brilliantly recalled, intimate snapshots of southern, small town life. Still present are the clever lyrics with intricate internal rhyme schemes; delicate linguistic lace. But now it’s sharper, cleaner, more nuanced.
“If it Takes a Lifetime,” the album’s opener, gives a summary of what the record is about; an acoustic driven country romp equal parts folky and Nashville. It’s the story of someone trying to get back to their roots, get a new perspective on life, find the joy in living and move past the extreme “acting out” behaviors of their youth.
“24 Frames” has that “Atlantic City” quality where a song kicks you in the gut and pulls at your heart strings from the first line with lyrics about life and love gone wrong. The emotional impact is as raw and hits you as hard as “Dress Blues” and “Chicago Promenade” did on Isbell’s debut, Sirens of the Ditch.
“Children of Children,” rich with hints of Jimmy Page’s acoustic work and Gordon Lightfoot’s arrangements, is centered on a deftly executed acoustic guitar line, backed by a barely present bass and jazz flavored drums. When the strings come in you float, when the distorted electric guitar comes in you melt.
The sobriety that colored Southeastern, Isbell’s last record, continues to make it’s presence felt on this album. While the underlying Faulkner-esque melancholy we’ve come to expect is still present, it is counterbalanced by a sense of personal growth, of finding one’s self, one’s purpose, of discovering joy and the hope that comes with it.