Jason Isbelle and the 400 Unit The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell recently appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Trevor made it clear that he prefers to be labeled as a “folk singer” rather than a “country singer.” While the focus is clearly storytelling in his music, you can’t help but hear the southern influence in the music and his voice. Isbell walks that line, being a folk singer in a country world. His band the 400 Unit assist in creating crisp country compositions, with twangy slide guitars and Jason’s wife Amanda Shires, a musician herself, contributes vocals and fiddle. On this album Jason proves that he’s progressive, tackling topics that country singers wouldn’t go near. However, the first two songs on the album find him putting himself in the shoes of those who fight and fear progress. The album opener “Last of My Kind” follows a country boy who can’t adjust to life in the city. This is followed by the hard-rocking “Cumberland Gap” in which a coal miner’s kid is trapped in an rural town who turns to drinking, demonstrating that “ the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole.” On “White Man’s World” he examines sexism through the lens of his daughter’s future, and tackles racism and white privilege, acknowledging everything that he has at the expense of others. He delivers some off-kilter love songs with “If We Were Vampires” and “Molotov” in which he chronicles his and Amanda’s love story (spoiler: they meet at a County Fair, that’s as country as a love story can get). Jason opens up about his anxiety on the aptly titled “Anxiety.” He ends the album with the most unifying and optimistic tracks, “Hope The High Road” where he muses “Wherever you are I hope the high road leads you home again, to the world you wanna live in,” and the album closer “Something to Love” where the couple sings their hopes for their daughter, “I hope you find something to love, something to do when you feel like giving up.” A couple years ago this would have even been too country for me to listen to, and now it’s one of my favorite albums of the year. The main message that comes through on this album is one of love and understanding. Hear me play “Last of My Kind” on Best Song Ever.
Fleet Foxes Crack-Up
Fleet Foxes return with their first album in 5 years. Over that time frontman Robin Pecknold went back to college, did some soul searching, and found his way back to music. You can tell the band has matured and the music has matured along with them. These songs are more restrained, expansive, and experimental with bare and dissonant stretches that evolve in melodic flourishes. Fleet Foxes have always walked the line between folk and indie-rock but on this album they really lean into their folk sensibilities. Songs are mostly acoustic with some piano, strings, and electric guitar rounding out the compositions, and of course their signature harmonies are back in full force. This band has always felt like they were from another time, yet even they are not immune to political commentary. They attack topics like patriarchy and division subtly and with poetic flare. This album isn’t as flashy or infectious as the bands previous work. Rather than putting this one to sing along with your friends, this is a piece of work to be absorbed into, sinking into the rich harmonies and carefully placed, atmospheric layers. Hear me play “Third of May/Odaigahara” on Best Song Ever.