The Nashville Sound was recorded in the Nashville Sound studios with Dave Cobb producing again and represents Isbell refining his blue collar working man’s songs to a hugely impressive degree. Opening gently with ‘Last of My Kind’ he sings with clarity and pathos of his growing sense of isolation as an artistic conscious member of the American working class. And this is a very downbeat way to start an album of generally introspective observation tempered with the occasionally angry shout. ‘Cumberland Gap’, track 2, is the first of those; a real DBT reference of a song complete with roaring guitars and small town Americana painting as it does a picture of a growing second Great Depression.
These are recurring themes seemingly reflecting an artist both uncomfortable in his own skin and nervous of the future. ‘If we were Vampires’ addresses his fears (and acceptance) of mortality, ‘Anxiety’ does exactly what it says on the tin as the lyric explores his examination of his own feelings despite the seeming successful status and stable domestic situation. ‘Tupelo’ sings of escape and loneliness. Lyrically Isbell demonstrates again what a complete songwriter he is with some moving couplets almost drunk with emotive imagery. This is an artist who gives a shit. ‘White Man’s World’ illustrates this with a powerful snap at xenophobia, racism and social responsibility. And so it goes, finishing on a raggedy singalong on ‘Something to Love’ reminiscent of ‘Alabama Pines’ in its earthy vibe.
This is a wonderful, deeply satisfying album that has darker hues than his immediate previous release; full of questions and doubt set to tunes that are earworms to learn to love. Move over Bruce, the working man has a new poet.