Jason Isbell’s most recent record, 2017’s The Nashville Sound, might be the best thing the Alabama-bred singer/songwriter has ever done, the culmination of a two-decade career that keeps getting richer by the year. In fact, for those who still care about such things, The Nashville Sound placed fifth in the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop critics’ poll, curiously nestled between Lorde’s Melodrama and The War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding.
But that’s not to say that the rest of Isbell’s six-album discography — which doesn’t include his six-year stint in Drive-by Truckers — is lacking. It’s just that The Nashville Sound is more sonically diverse than past efforts, artfully weaving hard-charging Rock & Roll, classic Country, Blues and Folk with the all the affecting, detail-driven lyricism that has made Isbell one the most heralded songwriters in recent memory. The album’s centerpiece is “Anxiety,” a dynamic, consciousness-burrower in which Isbell asks, “Anxiety, how do you always get the best of me?” It’s the perfect sentiment for our surreal, often nerve-wracking times — the kind of song that can’t help but resonate with listeners who similarly see our cultural fabric fraying.
“I think the better songs are the more personal songs,” Isbell told CityBeat in an interview last year. “The reason I say better is that I mean higher quality. Songs that connect with people in a more serious way are usually the ones that seem the most personal to the lives of the songwriters. I think the reason for that is that’s the only way to tell a story that is unique, because every song has been written a thousand times before and every story’s been told over and over and over for years.”
Let’s hope Isbell keeps revealing his personal issues for years to come.