Album Review: Jason Isbell - "Something More Than Free"
By Andrew Lee
If music were clothing then Jason Isbell’s latest album would be like one of those favorite shirts. You know, the one you reach for more than the others, the one that fits right and feels good - the one that doesn’t go out of style. Something More Than Free is a comfortable, well-made album that deserves some heavy rotation in the playlists of singer-songwriter appreciators everywhere.
Opening track “If It Takes a Lifetime” would not sound too out of place on a late 70’s Kenny Rogers album - and if you don’t think that’s a compliment then I don’t know what to do with you. “Hudson Commodore” could have been a hit for Eagles in their heyday. “Speed Trap Town” evokes the best of Nebraska-era Springsteen.
Don’t put this one on to rock out. Don’t put this one on to dance. Put this album on to think and reflect and question, to come to terms and plan and move forward somehow. This music is good for staying up late, driving around, learning lyrics and singing along. There’s a lot of acoustic, mid-tempo shuffling stuff and the electric guitar flavors are used sparingly but to great effect on songs like “24 Frames,” "Children of Children,” and “Palmetto Rose.”
A strong sense of memory and character and story abounds on these songs, and there’s plenty of conflict and regret, but there’s also a feeling of purpose and potential for good. Isbell asks questions (“The Life You Chose”) and he offers answers (“24 Frames”) and he sings about work like the grown-ass man that he is (“If It Takes a Lifetime,” “Something More than Free”). Recently my 12-year-old nephew declared that I didn’t like the same kind of music he did because he was into “singer-songwriter.” He offered 17-year-old internet discovery Shawn Mendes as an example of a singer-songwriter he was into. I’ve got nothing against Shawn Mendes, nephew, but hopefully someday you’ll learn to think of someone like Jason Isbell instead, because Something More Than Free is what real man singing and songwriting is all about.