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Saturday, 26 December 2015

The S4L Album of the Year 2015: Something More Than Free - Jason Isbell

From the moment I first heard it I knew that every album that followed had to top this. From July onwards this was already penciled in as The S4L Album of the Year 2015. This is "Thinking Man's Country" as oppossed to some of the nonsense that generally spews forth from Nashville!

His previous album Southeastern was always going to take some beating, such was the high praise for that album (even my mate Colin Busher below speaks with great favour about it) that pleasing the critics with something a little bit different was always going to be difficult. The Good News for Jason Isbell though is that if he, or any other Artist for that matter, relied on sales from the critics then they'd all be pretty poor! A good review, or even a bad review doesn't always matter to an artist who is really on a roll when it comes to crafting great songs. Rather it is the people who will listen and are able to find a little bit of themselves in the music that have the greater say. It is they who buy the album, go to the shows etc so if it sucked they'd vote with their feet and not bother to support it.

Seeing the response to Something More Than Free from the public should encourage Jason Isbell and not hamper  his efforts to day by day become a better songwriter.

Where Southeastern seemed very personal at times Something More Than Free is loaded with characters to spotlight the world he wishes to convey (and in doing that, he's doing no different to what Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Paul Simon or any other decent songsmith is doing).

There's a diversity of sound as well throughout the album. There's Country, Folk, and a bit of Rock all cleverly dispensed between the 11 songs.

If It Takes A Lifetime appeared at #2 in my Top Ten Songs of the Year. I loved 24 Frames the moment I first heard it (well saw it being played live on a TV show). Speed Trap Town is another favourite, and the title track also is fantastic (though personally I don't think there's a poor track on the whole of the album).

Some might have hoped that Jason Isbell would have failed to live up to the hype that was generated (not by him or his label) by Southeastern but they are all going to be disappointed because Something More Than Free is a work that has clearly triumphed and shows that Mr Isbell will be around for a long time to come yet!

Something More Than Free - Jason Isbell
Southeastern Records
Produced by Dave Cobb
Released 17th July 2015
US Billboard 200 Albums #6
US Billboard Top Country Albums #1
US Billboard Folk Albums #1
US Billboard Independent Albums #2
US Billboard Top Rock Albums #1
UK Album Chart #17

(Click on the Links to Listen to the Music)
01. If It Takes A Lifetime    
02. 24 Frames    
03. Flagship    
04. How To Forget    
05. Children Of Children    
06. The Life You Chose    
07. Something More Than Free    
08. Speed Trap Town    
09. Hudson Commodore    
10. Palmetto Rose    
11. To A Band That I Loved.

* Links might not necessarily be the version of the song that appears on the record. You Tube once again seem to have removed tracks from the album they seem to have uploaded to a playlist themselves when the album came out. Apologies for this. Hope it doesn't spoil your listening pleasure.

Something More Than Free 
Some thoughts by Colin Busher 

"an album a lot of artists would sell their family for!"

2013's Southeastern is the best album I've heard in the last 15 -20 years. It stopped me in my tracks.

I told myself and others, when waiting on the follow up that a Southeastern only comes along every 20 years or so and expecting SMTF to be as good was foolish. Its not as good in my opinion, but only by the shortest of margins. If a record can have a 'lived in' feel about it, then SMTF has it. Isbell is a great storyteller and you feel immediately immersed in his tales and his characters.
From the couple in Flagship to the working class father in the title track which for me captures perfectly the life of the hard working man.

The standout track for me is Speed Trap Town a song that just pulls at your emotions. A song where you live every moment with the protagonist. Storytelling at its best. Who hasnt at some point wanted to be "a thousand miles away from a speedtrap town"?

Just shy of the perfection of Southeastern, SMTF is an album a lot of artists would sell their family for.

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