After catching on – late, thanks, iTunes – to Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, I pre-ordered his 2015 offering Something More Than Free immediately.
It’s pretty much more of the same good stuff – possibly an even better collection of tunes. Isbell has a pleasant, gruff voice, and sings with an oddly affecting deadpan that allows his lyrics to shine through the song arrangements.
The mood shifts between driving rock rhythms (’24 Frames’) and gently strummed acoustic guitar (‘Flagship’), with the lightest touch of country. ‘Children of Children’ turns out to be quite heavy with a long coda featuring a wig-out guitar solo against a bed of strings – one of my favourite sound combos. ‘How to Forget’ is upbeat but obviously rooted in desperate sadness. It has a jaunty rhythm and a spiffy but short guitar solo. On ‘The Life You Chose’, Isbell drops Sylvia Plath references and the drums shuffle along as he reflects on his feelings for an old flame:
“Are you living the life you chose?
Are you living the life that chose you?”
But this is no typical man-who-thinks-he’s-wronged cliché. By the end, it’s clear that the singer’s questions are more directed more towards himself than the old flame.
The standout track for me so far is ’24 Frames’, which has intriguing if gnomic lyrics. What does it mean? 24 frames represents the space of a second, it’s the way the eye is tricked into seeing moving pictures. So I’d guess the song is about the dream-like quality of film but also the way that things can change – be lost – in an instant.
You thought god was an architect now you know
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built that’s all for show
Goes up in flames in 24 frames
An excellent set, which in spite of its downbeat moods leaves you feeling oddly hopeful.