Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free (Southeastern Records, 2015)
Jason Isbell studied creative writing and English at University of Memphis. When asked about his writing, he emphasizes economy of expression. To the questions: “If I were looking at your notebooks, what would I see in your editing? What would you be taking out?” he replied, “Anything that is not necessary, that’s the first to go for me.”*
Songwriting great John Prine and music critic Ken Tucker have taken notice. Prine positively exudes over Isbell’s work: "I like songs that are clean and don't have much fat on them — every line is direct, and all people can relate to it. That's what I try to do, and that's what Jason does. I really haven't heard anybody that different in probably 30 years."**
Ken Tucker points to a line in Something More than Free, “twenty-two backwoods years old” as an example of Isbell’s ability to tuck in “small phrases that do the work of long prose paragraphs.”*** Other packed phrases come to mind: "speed trap town," "socially impaired,” “shorter than the corn,” “24 Frames,” and “five full generations living.”
And, there is no shortage of memorable lines. For example, in “If It Takes A Lifetime,” Isbell sings, “I thought I was running too, but I was running from;” and in “The Life You Chose.” he asks: “Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you?” Something More Than Free debuted at number one on Billboard’s rock, folk and country charts. Isbell never graduated from the University of Memphis; I would not be surprised if an honorary degree were added to his plaudits.