Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell (Album of the Week)

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Something More Than Free is, without a doubt, the album that I have looked forward to most this year. Not that I have wearied of listening to Southeastern or any of Jason Isbell’s music, but I am greedy and I wanted more. The eleven tracks that make up this album do what he excels at. They tell stories and they catch your heart and your ear with their musicianship and wordsmanship. I have had a few months with the album now, so writing a review is somewhat of a challenge. These songs are no longer freshly exposed to judgment. All of the songs are now part of my Isbell vocabulary. Breaking off the album from the rest of his music and trying to create an honest critique is tough. As usual, over on his blog, Dan writes eloquently about what he is hearing in this album. His is a very interesting take on how the struggles that were so clear in Southeastern may still be driving this new album but in a more subtle way.

My huge mad crush on Jason Isbell started in a honky tonk Kansas City roadhouse in 2009. That Jason was very different from the man he is today, but the core of his songwriting that was great in 2009 still shines brilliantly. Whatever your music preference is, there is likely to be at least a song or two on this that you could want in your library.

To pick a favorite on the album, I am going to go with How to Forget. I have to believe that this one is pretty autobiographical. It exposes the challenge of people coming back into your life after your life has been turned around. Because they are so good, I want to put all of the lyrics here, but I will limit myself to the first part:

Give her space, give her speed

Give her anything she needs

Get her out of here

Give her weed, give her wine

Give her anything but time

Get her out of here

She won’t stop telling stories, and most of them are true

She knew me back before I fell for you

I was strained, I was sad, didn’t realize what I had

It was years ago

I was sick, I was scared, I was socially impaired

It was years ago

My past’s a scary movie, I watched and fell asleep

Now I’m dreaming up these creatures from the deep

What I love about this song is that after the part above, he comes back to ask this unwanted visitor if he was good to her. He wants to know if the fact that he now has something great in his life, it makes his leaving her harder. Here are the demons of the past meeting a core of good.

Jason’s last album, Southeastern, had one of the most romantic songs imaginable on it – Cover Me Up. On this album he is back in the swoon game with the song, Flagship. In the song, he sings about seeing an old couple in a broken down hotel sitting close but appearing so far away from each other; he promises to his own partner Baby let’s not ever get that way / I’ll drive you to the ocean every day / We’ll stay up in the presidential suite /And call ourselves the flagship of the fleet / You gotta try and keep yourself naive / In spite of all the evidence believed / And volunteer to lose touch with the world / And focus on one solitary girl. In another part of the song, he goes and gets his cowboy boots polished because his girl likes to see them shine! Who can compete with that, Jason?

Jason Isbell in concert loves his guitars. Like Southeastern, the music of Something More than Free is somewhat spare. It does have some lovely violin interludes provided by his wife, Amanda Shires. Of particular note on that is Hudson Commodore.

Dan hates that this is a classification, but Jason Isbell is typically pegged into the Americana genre of music. He definitely is not country and you can’t put him in the southern rock camp of Drive by Truckers. This album gives you some toe-tapping honky-tonks like If it takes a Lifetime and Palmetto Rose, and some Southern gothic with, Children of Children. In each, his smooth but raspy vocals brings the listener into the story. As he can do so well, he combines Southern good-ol’-boy with brainy troubadour with lines like Jack and Coke in your mama’s car / you were reading The Bell Jar. Listen to this album and you will find hard-working, hard-living, dreamers. Maybe, like me, you will have your own crush on Jason Isbell. I think this album could do it for a new listener.

Before the year ends, I get to see Jason perform two times! That will make three for 2015 for us. I can’t wait to hear how Something More Than Free is transformed in live performances.

1989

Next Up: Ryan Adams 1989

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Last Week’s Good Things

Feb15Pickles! I need to get this blog post done before the name becomes obsolete! Just to put you in the right place, the last week that I am talking about is the week of February 15. I know! That seems like longer ago than a week to me too! Maybe it is the waning days of winter that seem to adjust the speed of time or something. Anyway, before it expires, here are a few of the good things that brightened my last week.

BirdieBirdie Arrives – Okay. I am going to cheat here a little bit. On February 20 a little girl arrived into this world who was anticipated to be adored to such a level that she would likely always have a sunshine aura around her. Birdie has a mom and dad who have waited so patiently for her and who will probably be some of the best parents a girl could have. She has grandmas and a grandpa who will be there for her always. She has aunts and an uncle ready to embrace her as a new part of their lives, and that just can’t help but make them better. She has cousins who will be friends and playmates. She has extended family that are all so excited to meet her and fall for her too. And she has people like Dan and me who, though we share no blood, we feel as much a part of her family as genetic boundaries allow. The cheating part of this is that even though Birdie arrived last week, I did not meet her until this week. And she is perfect, and she is loved well.

JasonAnother Gushy Review of Jason Isbell – On Tuesday we went to see Jason Isbell and his band play at the Uptown Theater. This was #6 Jason Isbell show for us. I would say it was probably the best yet. His band is so good, he was so engaged and seemed to be having so much fun. There was something else about seeing him this time. This is weird coming from someone who has never met the guy, but I felt so proud of him. When we first saw him in 2009 he was a different man from the one he is today. You see it in pictures from the time – talent out the wazoo, but hazy from drinking. On Tuesday, along with all of the fabulous musical moments, was his presence as a healthy and happy man. It has been his journey, but as a person who loves the music he makes and the persona that he shares with the world through social media, I feel like I have had some read into where he is now. He and the band encored with the Rolling Stones’ Can’t You Hear Me Knocking which was rocking good fun. After that, this part of his tour ended and he went home to be with his wife. A couple days later on Instagram he posted a picture of his hand on Amanda’s slightly rounded tummy. Happy and healthy.

A Saturday Walk – The weather has been super weird. One minute they say it will snow, but then it doesn’t. Last Thursday, I heard nothing about snow, but I left work (minus my boots) in a real dilly of a snowstorm that kept me crawling through the downtown streets, but as soon as I got a couple miles south the sun was shining and the inches of snow on my car looked very out of place. Weird. Last Saturday was supposed to be weathery, but it turned out to be beautiful. Dan and I are still working hard on getting our steps in, so we used the opportunity to take a walk to Waldo Pizza for lunch. We were extraordinarily good and had salad bar and no pizza. We rewarded our goodness by chasing our salad with one of the best deals in beer flights (and a great selection) in the city.

raylan-boydFinal Season of Justified Started – Raylan Givens is a bad ass, and Boyd Crowder is too. I will be sad when this program ends. In the meantime, I will savor every moment of this show and be so happy every time there is a scene where Raylan and Boyd talk to each other. It is tv brilliance.

Movie Night – We have not been very good with keeping our monthly movie date with our friends. This month, however, we got it done. It’s a good way to end the day to leave work and sit down with people that you want to catch up with and fill in the gaps since the last time you did that. We did that and then we went to see American Sniper (not a huge fan, but, oh, that Bradley Cooper!) and then we went and had some more catchup over a nightcap.

Wishing everyone a wonderful week as March rolls in!

Last Week’s Good Things

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Last week’s good things were multiple, but here are a few of the more noteworthy ones. 

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Jason Isbell, Willie Nelson & Alison Krauss at Starlight – As I have noted before, Jason Isbell is one of my all time favorite musicians – maybe my favorite. My most recent opportunity to hear him was at Kansas City’s Starlight Theater – a beautiful outdoor theater in Swope Park. The sound that night was spectacular! Jason was the opener, so he only had six songs, but he was brilliant as usual. I have not listened to Alison Krauss much, so I didn’t know what to expect there. She has a lovely voice, a great stage presence, and her sharing the spotlight with her other bandmates is winning. Willie Nelson put on a great show. We had heard him a few years ago at Red Rocks. That night he was okay. At Starlight, he seemed to really bring it more and more as the night went on. The night ended with all of the performers on stage singing gospel songs and looking really happy. So was I!

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Keeping Positive – Our new office building is wonderful and to have most of our group in one place is the best! Last week, we had our first Division meeting and there were loads of good sentiments passed on by attendees. I was the recipient of some words that mean so much to me. There is a good vibe in the new building that is palpable. One thing being done is having everyone write on an index card what positive commitment they are making. These are hanging on the bulletin board in the breakroom. Seeing the number of cards grow each day is heart lifting!

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Jean’s beer – After her visit here with Sam, Jean sent Dan a bottle of special beer. It came with a very sweet note and explanation of the contents. Of course, this spoke to Dan in a big way and he reciprocated with a flowing thank you and commentary on hows and whys of beers. Then we actually drank the beer, and enjoyed it for what it was and how it came to us. The whole process – seriously good!

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Scanning Pictures for Ali and Jose’s Engagement Party – We couldn’t attend the engagement party that Ali’s New Orleans’ friends threw for them. What I got to do, however, is provide a photo history of Ali that they used. Sitting and looking through photo albums is the best history ever.

Dan and Pet Videos – Our morning routine during the week is early rising, Dan making breakfast, watching the news, reading the paper, and looking at our computers. Dan laughing at pet videos in the morning makes my morning.

I hope today and every day has many good things for you!

Bonus Good thing: Jason Isbell singing Cover Me Up at Starlight Theater

My Top Ten Albums of 2013

2013-06-20 21.12.10A friend of mine always has a top ten album challenge on Facebook around this time of the year. My own rule for this challenge is that I had to have purchased the album for it to appear on my list. I tend not to rank the albums as I post them, but this year I went ahead and did that too. On the Facebook challenge, I am told that the best format is to countdown — Casey Kasem style. For this, however, I am leading off with the best. That way, I know if people get tired and lose interest halfway through, they at least get my absolute favorites. It has been a good year for music, and many of the albums below have shown up on this blog as I have gotten to know them. If you haven’t experienced some of these, I would truly endorse!

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1. Neko Case – The Worse things Get, the harder I fight, the harder I fight, the more I love you

It was a tough choice, but when it came down to making my choice for the number 1, I had to go with my girl, Neko. Like Southeastern, I love this album more every time I hear a song from it. This is one that I seek out videos of live performances because she and her band just appear to have so much delight in performing with each other – including a Tiny Desk Concert where they showed up to play in Halloween costumes. Almost half of the songs begin with her amazing voice and no musical intro. Her voice is a gift. She tells stories that have fantastical elements and heart.

Favorite song of the moment: Calling Cards

jason2.  Jason Isbell – Southeastern

This summer, the night before we left on our roadtrip, we went to see Jason Isbell at Crossroads in Kansas City. We didn’t get to as much music this year as I wanted to, but this one one where I needed to be. I fell in love with Jason Isbell a few years ago when we saw him – again playing solo – at Knuckleheads. I knew his voice from Drive By Truckers, but didn’t really know his solo work. Between those two concerts, the man changed his life. He quit drinking and he found Amanda. He is happy. Southeastern is an album that reflects the journey – heavier on the hard times than the good, but you can hear the regret move to hope. One of the more delightful people that I follow on Twitter and Instagram is Jason Isbell. I don’t know if he would appreciate this description, but he is so smitten with his wife it is darling.

Favorite song of the moment: Stockholm.

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3.  Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

I knew that this was going to be a good album when, on April 27, 2013, Sam posted this on his Facebook page: i didn’t think i could like vampire weekend but this is in early song of year running. Sam had not previously been a fan. He came on board for a reason.It is a pretty fantastic song, and the album keeps the pace with this one. Ezra Koenig, the band’s lyricist is smart and it shows in the songs he writes. There are more references than you can shake a stick at, but they tied into catchy beats and creative instrumentation.

Favorite song of the moment: Step

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4. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – Love Has Come for You

Steve Martin gets top billing on this album, but Edie owns it. As I have written before, her voice is the best. Combining that voice with Americana style is a winning combination.

Favorite song of the moment:  King of Boys

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5. Laura Viers – Warp and Weft

If you don’t know Laura Viers and you like a girl who can kill on guitar, you need to check her out. Many of Laura’s songs are quiet singer/ songwriter pieces, but she can bring on the noisy guitars every now and then. I enjoy both sides.

Favorite song: That Alice (a tribute to John Coltrane’s wife, Alice)

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6. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

I had to remind myself (ie I needed to look it up on the Internet) that cerulean is one of the crayon colors that you will find in the big box. While I was doing that research, I also “reminded myself” that Waxahatchee is the name of a creek in Alabama. Waxahatcee the music maker is Katie Crutchfield. Katie is a wonderful guitar player and songwriter, and this is a wonderful listen.

Favorite song of the moment: Tangled Envisioning

courtney7. Courtney Barnett – Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

I have written about Courtney Barnet recently. I am not entirely sure that  it is within the rules to include this one due to its format (double EP) and the fact that some of it was released a previous year. I don’t care. She is one of my favorite music finds this year and if I can get some more listeners for her by including her on my list, I will do so.

Favorite song of the moment: Avant Gardener

sallie8. Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside – Untamed Beast

Sallie and her band were the surprise find of the year when she opened for Thao and the Get Down Stay Down at the Record Bar this year. Girl put on an energy riot show. She kind of reminds me of one of my last year favorites, the Alabama Shakes.

Favorite song of the moment: Bad Boys

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9. Bombadil – Metrics of Affection

Again, I have written about my new found love of Bombadil before. If you just need one nice, kind of mushy song to share with someone you love, you would be hard pressed to find one better than:

Favorite Song of the moment: Thank You.

boy10. Boy – Mutual Friends

Only two of my top ten are male performances. While a person may think otherwise, this is not one of them. These two women write good songs and perform them well. I am glad to have found them this year!

Favorite song of the moment: Boris

I would love it if anyone reading this would just tell me one musical highlight of the year for you. I know I missed  many!