by Julian Spivey
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Grammys are the Grammys. Meaning the award telecast is typically got be popular culture oriented for better or worse and those who don’t like that won’t ever be pleased. Also, any time something that isn’t seemingly pop is showcased on the telecast – which only occurs a handful of times a year – the fans of pop music are going to be irritated and “Who is Paul McCartney?” will trend on Twitter for a bit.
It doesn’t seem like anybody enjoys watching the Grammys. Hell, after you read the remainder of this you may get the feeling that I didn’t enjoy the Grammys. But, I understand the telecast’s need for ratings and it’s need to put pop stars on the air, even if the awards themselves are meant to showcase the entirety of music. I also don’t follow much in the forms of pop or hip-hop music, so it’s nice to see the best of those genres once every year. I even thought the best performance on this year’s telecast was a pop song.
Grammys Hip Hop Bias
There’s been a lot of talk over the years, especially of late that the Grammys have a major bias against hip hop when it comes to the coveted Album of the Year. It was a head scratcher to many when Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly lost to Taylor Swift’s 1989 two years ago and when Kanye West’s 2010 hit My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy couldn’t even muster a nomination in the category. I fully believed this was the year that a hip hop album would win, and I believed it would be Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., which was pretty much the consensus pick among critics for best album of 2017. There was also Jay-Z’s 4:44, which received the most nominations this year with eight. By the way, Jay-Z went 0-for-8 this year, making him the second most nominated artist in a year to go winless. I don’t blame that so much on the Recording Academy voters as much as I do with him being in the same rap categories as Kendrick Lamar, who swept the genre winning all four of those awards. Bruno Mars would take both Jay-Z and Lamar out in the big-time categories of Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the year. Sure, there’s a possibility this year that Lamar and Jay-Z split the vote leading to a Bruno Mars win, but it seems more likely that the voting block just can’t wrap their head around hip hop still.
One of the biggest controversies leading up to the Grammys telecast was the fact that Lorde, an Album of the Year nominee, wouldn’t be performing on the broadcast. A publication that I can’t remember did some research and found that all five Album of the Year nominees were offered a performance slot – Jay-Z declined, and Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino performed full performances. Lorde, the only female in the category, was only offered a partial performance slot, which she declined. In the middle of all the female empowerment movements going on right now this is despicable. It’s also interesting to me that Lorde got a nomination in the Album of the Year category, but not in the Pop Album category when six other artists did. How does that even happen?
Ed Sheeran Winning Best Pop Vocal Performance
Few people are talking about this, which surprises me, but one of the worst moments of the Grammys was Ed Sheeran winning Best Pop Vocal Performance for “The Shape of You” in a category that included Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons,” Kesha’s “Praying,” Pink’s “What About Us” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Love So Soft.” We’re amid the incredibly important #MeToo and Time’s Up movement for gender equality and support for sexual abuse victims and Sheeran’s incredibly sexist (and dumb) “The Shape of You,” which basically relegates women to their looks and bodies, wins one of the night’s biggest honors in a category featuring four great and powerful women. It wasn’t a good look for the Grammys and I’m kind of glad Sheeran wasn’t in attendance to claim his honor.
Kesha and Lady Gaga
As I said previously, I’m not a pop music guy, but some artists, songs and performances within the genre are just too good for even me to ignore. Kesha and Lady Gaga provided two of the most beautiful performances of the night. Kesha performed her highly emotional “Praying” with help from Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha, Andra Day and Julia Michaels and I thought it was the best performance of the entire telecast. She wrote “Praying” after a multiple year, high profiled court battle with her former producer Dr. Luke who she sued for sexual assault among other things. For her to come out of such a devastating time in her life better than ever and standing up for women who’ve dealt with similar experiences was amazing. If you didn’t have tears in your eyes watching her performance I’m not sure you’re human. Lady Gaga’s piano ballad performances of “Joanne” and “Million Reasons” showcased the best of everything she can be as a pop performer. It was just an all-around beautiful performance. It’s interesting how she’s toned down her performance style and seemingly gotten more personal and some folk – including the Grammys, which didn’t hand her any hardware this year – don’t seem to be as interested. She’s better than ever.
Chris Stapleton swept every Grammy category he was in this year taking home three awards. He won Best Country Album for From A Room: Volume 1 (with the honor thankfully being broadcast this year after Sturgill Simpson’s win last year was relegated to the pre-show live stream), Best Country Song for “Broken Halos” and Best Country Solo Performance for “Either Way.” I’m thrilled for Stapleton’s wins, but still can’t help but feel he was disrespected by the Grammys for not performing one of his own songs on the telecast. He did perform a tribute to the late, great Tom Petty doing “Wildflowers” with new Lifetime Achievement recipient Emmylou Harris before the in-memoriam segment. The performance was terrific, but Stapleton deserved his own slot. The only original country performance of the telecast went to Little Big Town for their performance of the Taylor Swift penned “Better Man,” which lost Best Country Song to Stapleton’s “Broken Halos.” But, to prove how badly Stapleton was snubbed here’s a list of artists who performed on Sunday’s telecast who weren’t even nominated for a Grammy this year: U2, Sting and Sam Smith. There was a total of 19 performances on the telecast. The only performers who won as many or more Grammys as Stapleton this year were Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars. Thirteen of the 19 performers on the telecast didn’t win a single Grammy this year.
Chuck Berry and Fats Domino
I was thankful to see that the Grammy Awards didn’t forget about the legendary Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, both of whom died in 2017. The telecast featured a performance of Jon Batiste doing Domino’s classic “Ain’t That a Shame” and Gary Clark Jr. doing Berry’s great “Maybellene.” The only issue is both songs were abridged. I understand it’s a three-and-a-half hour telecast, and things must keep moving along, but the Grammys gave Sting an at least five-minute slot for “Englishman in New York,” which came out 30 years ago, but couldn’t properly pay tribute to Berry and Domino, whom the genre of rock ‘n’ roll never would have even existed without. That’s right Elvis Presley fans, Berry and Domino preceded “The King.”
Jason Isbell and American Roots Music
Jason Isbell is pretty much my favorite artist of the modern era. There are others I love a lot – including recent Grammy winners Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton – but, I believe Isbell is the best singer-songwriter of his generation. I was thrilled that he won his third and fourth career Grammys this year for Best Americana Album for The Nashville Sound and Best American Roots Song for “If We Were Vampires.” They were my two favorite Grammy wins this year. I was actually surprised he won these awards as I thought the voting body would pay tribute to the late Gregg Allman with wins in both categories. I understand that few outside of the Americana community even know the name Jason Isbell, but I’d sure like to see him or someone like him have the opportunity to showcase their music on the live telecast. Simpson got the opportunity last year and it was terrific. I just want to see more roots music, in general, featured – folk, blues, jazz, gospel, etc. Best Contemporary Blues Album winners Taj Mahal and Keb Mo performed a song off their winning album in the pre-telecast ceremony where most Grammys are handed out and it was fantastic. It would be nice to feature this great American music in between the dozen or so pop songs on the night.
People have been asking this question for years: Is rock music dead? The answer is obviously no. There may never be as much great rock music as there once was – I do believe that – but, there’s enough to be focused on at the Grammys. The only “rock” performances on the telecast were U2’s “Get Out of Your Own Way,” Sting’s 30-year old “Englishman in New York” and Elton John and Miley Cyrus’ collaboration on the classic “Tiny Dancer,” which – though great – basically amounted to a commercial for an upcoming Grammys special paying tribute to John. The Foo Fighters won Best Rock Song for “Run,” which would’ve made a rocking performance on the telecast. Or maybe The War on Drugs, winner of Best Rock Album, could’ve performed. Hell, there wasn’t even a single rock category announced on the telecast, which is just wrong.
It’s interesting that the President of the United States can say, “shithole countries,” but when Logic says it in an eloquent speech following his performance of the suicide hotline awareness song “1-800-273-8255” he’s censored by CBS.
Jay-Z’s eight nominations without a win is second to only Paul McCartney’s nine in 1966 when he was with The Beatles.
Childish Gambino, the stage name of Donald Glover, won a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Redbone.” In the last year Glover has won a Grammy and an Emmy for his critically-acclaimed FX series “Atlanta.” This means he’s halfway to an EGOT (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.” By the way, so is previous Tony-winner Ben Platt, who was a part of the Best Musical Theater Album winning “Dear Evan Hansen.”
The Grammys love themselves some Bruno Mars. His seven wins were the most of any performer and he won every category in which he was nominated. “24K Magic” is his second Record of the Year winner in three years. He won with Mark Ronson for “Uptown Funk” in 2016. Mars has been nominated for Record of the Year more than anyone this decade with five nominations. The next closest artist is Taylor Swift with four.
The old guard of the music industry sure doesn’t seem to realize how much the public is tired of U2. All they would have to do is peruse social media to find that out.
1. "Praying" by Kesha feat. Cyndi Lauper, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha, Camila Cabello & Julia Michaels
2. "Wildflowers" by Chris Stapleton & Emmylou Harris (Tom Petty Tribute/In Memoriam)
3. "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John & Miley Cyrus
4. "Joanne" & "Million Reasons" by Lady Gaga
5. "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Church, Maren Morris & Brothers Osborne (Tribute to Las Vegas Country Music Festival Victims)
6. "Ain't That a Shame" & "Maybellene" by Jon Batiste & Gary Clark Jr. (Fats Domino & Chuck Berry Tribute Medley)
7. "XXX," "DNA" & "King's Dead" by Kendrick Lamar
8. "Somewhere" by Ben Platt & "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" by Patti LuPone (Broadway Tribute)
9. "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken" by Pink
10. "Better Man" by Little Big Town
11. "Terrified" by Childish Gambino
12. "Get Out of Your Own Way" by U2
13. "Englishman in New York" by Sting
14. "1-800-273-8255" by Logic, Alessia Cara & Khaled
15. "Broken Clocks" by SZA
16. "Finesse" by Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B.
17. "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee
18. "Pray" by Sam Smith
19. "Wild Thoughts" by Rihanna, DJ Khaled & Bryson Tiller
by Julian Spivey
Country Album of the Year
Nominees: Cosmic Hallelujah by Kenny Chesney, Heart Break by Lady Antebellum, The Breaker by Little Big Town, Life Changes by Thomas Rhett and From A Room: Volume 1 by Chris Stapleton
Who Should Win: From A Room: Volume 1 by Chris Stapleton
The Grammy Awards typically do a good job when it comes to nominating country music albums. You have to look no further than last year when Sturgill Simpson’s terrific A Sailor’s Guide to Earth won Country Album of the Year, despite getting no love whatsoever from other country awards. This year, however, the Grammys have seemingly lost their mind. The fact that Miranda Lambert’s excellent double album The Weight of These Wings wasn’t nominated is proof of that. Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Vol. 1 is clearly the best work of these nominees. His debut Traveller won this award two years ago.
Who Will Win: From A Room: Volume 1 by Chris Stapleton
I would be shocked to see anybody else take home this honor, but if someone were to do so my money would be on Little Big Town’s The Breaker.
Country Song of the Year
Nominees: “Better Man” by Little Big Town (Songwriter: Taylor Swift), “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt (Songwriters: Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne), “Broken Halos” by Chris Stapleton (Songwriters: Mike Henderson and Chris Stapleton), “Drinkin’ Problem” by Midland (Songwriters: Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Mark Wystrach), “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert (Songwriters: Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall)
Who Should Win: “Broken Halos” by Chris Stapleton
This is a hard category. Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” and Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem” are both fantastic songs. “Tin Man” might be the most emotional song Lambert has ever recorded and I love the throwback sound of “Drinkin’ Problem,” but I believe Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” is the best song in this category and thus should be the winner.
How in the hell was Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” nominated for Best Country Song of the Year?
Who Will Win: “Better Man” by Little Big Town
I don’t think the voting body of the Grammy Awards can resist giving an award to Taylor Swift and based on her popularity if she’s in attendance at the ceremony on Sunday they’ll probably televise this award instead of the more deserving Country Album of the Year (which wasn’t televised last year either).
Best Country Solo Performance
Nominees: “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt, “Losing You” by Alison Krauss, “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert, “I Could Use a Love Song” by Maren Morris and “Either Way” by Chris Stapleton
Who Should Win: “Either Way” by Chris Stapleton
This is a no-brainer for me, even though the vocal performances by Alison Krauss and Miranda Lambert are terrific. But, Chris Stapleton the best voice currently in country music and “Either Way” was the best vocal performance I heard in any genre of music last year.
Who Will Win: “Losing You” by Alison Krauss
Some may not realize this, but Alison Krauss has won more Grammy Awards than any other artist in Grammy history with 27. So, don’t be shocked when she wins her 28th award for “Losing You” on Sunday. If she does fall to anyone, though, I suspect it’ll be Chris Stapleton.
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
Nominees: “It Ain’t My Fault” by Brothers Osborne, “My Old Man” by Zac Brown Band, “You Look Good” by Lady Antebellum, “Better Man” by Little Big Town and “Drinkin’ Problem” by Midland
Who Should Win: “My Old Man” by Zac Brown Band
I’m a huge fan of Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man,” Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem” and Brothers Osborne’s “It Ain’t My Fault” and would be happy with any of these performances winning the Grammy, but I feel “My Old Man” is both the best song and vocal performance of the group. It won’t matter.
Who Will Win: “Better Man” by Little Big Town
Little Big Town feels like a lock to win their third Grammy in this category for the Taylor Swift penned “Better Man.” The group previously won this award in 2013 for “Pontoon” and in 2016 for “Girl Crush.”
Best Americana Album
Nominees: Southern Blood by Gregg Allman, Shine on Rainy Day by Brent Cobb, Beast Epic by Iron & Wine, The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Brand New Day by The Mavericks
Who Should Win: The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
I believe Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit released the best album during the Grammy released period of any artist. But, I also believe that Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit are royally screwed. You’ll see why below.
Also, I’m greatly pleased that Brent Cobb’s debut album Shine on Rainy Day received a nomination in this category.
Who Will Win: Southern Blood by Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman, who died last May, is going to get the sympathy/in memory vote from the Grammy committee. It’s not right. But, it’s probably going to happen.
Best American Roots Song
Nominees: “Cumberland Gap” by David Rawlings (Songwriters: David Rawlings and Gillian Welch), “I Wish You Well” by The Mavericks (Songwriters: Raul Malo and Alan Miller), “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Songwriter: Jason Isbell), “It Ain’t Over Yet” by Rodney Crowell feat. Rosanne Cash and John Paul White (Songwriter: Rodney Crowell) and “My Only True Friend” by Gregg Allman (Songwriters: Gregg Allman and Scott Sharrard)
Who Should Win: “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
This might be the best category of the entire Grammy Awards this year, in my opinion. These are all fantastic songs. I believe the best of the bunch is Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s “If We Were Vampires,” but I’m not expecting it to win.
Who Will Win: “My Only True Friend” by Gregg Allman
See previous category for reason.
Best American Roots Performance
Nominees: “Killer Diller Blues” by Alabama Shakes, “Let My Mother Live” by Blind Boys of Alabama, “Arkansas Farmboy” by Glen Campbell, “Steer Your Way” by Leonard Cohen and “I Never Cared for You” by Alison Krauss
Who Should Win: “Arkansas Farmboy” by Glen Campbell
My favorite performance of these great nominees is Glen Campbell’s “Arkansas Farmboy,” which made for a perfect farewell for the music legend who died last August telling of a young Arkansas farmboy who grew up to be a star.
Who Will Win: “Arkansas Farmboy” by Glen Campbell
This is an extremely hard category to predict. The Grammys love Alison Krauss, who could extend her record Grammy wins by an artist to 29 on Sunday. But, the Grammys might also want to honor the late Glen Campbell and Leonard Cohen in the category too. A split of people voting for Campbell and Cohen could ultimately hand this to Krauss or critical darlings Alabama Shakes.
by Julian Spivey
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit put on a fantastic show at Robinson Music Center in Little Rock, Ark. on Sunday (Jan. 21). It was the group’s first visit to Little Rock in more than four years when they opened for Dawes at the smaller Rev Room in October of 2013.
Little Rock was ready for Isbell and the 400 Unit’s return selling out Robinson Music Center, which was renovated in 2016 and looks fantastic. The venue could be Arkansas’ answer to The Orpheum in Memphis. Hopefully it’ll continue to book awesome acts like Isbell. Currently the venue seems to book more plays and musicals than anything.
Isbell, who is nominated for two Grammy Awards next weekend for his fantastic 2017 release The Nashville Sound, opened the show with a couple of standouts from his previous release Something More Than Free from 2015 with “24 Frames” and the title track from that album.
Fans of his latest work needn’t worry as he would perform eight of the new album’s 10 tracks by the end of the night, including terrific rocking performances of “Hope the High Road” and “Cumberland Gap,” which were my two favorite tracks on The Nashville Sound.
“Tupelo” and “Molotov” were other great performances from the new record, with “White Man’s World” and “Last of My Kind” really standing out, as well. “White Man’s World” is especially fun to hear in such a conservative state as Arkansas, but I don’t know how many in attendance really needed to hear its message of how we’re all in this world together and should get along. Though, there have been stories of some Isbell fans being off-put by the song’s message before. “Last of My Kind,” which was likely Isbell’s quietest performance of the night really led me to thinking he honestly might be the last of his kind – you don’t find too many singer-songwriters with his introspection, thoughtfulness and songwriting aptitude anymore. This is why he’s pretty much the reigning king of Americana.
Isbell and the 400 Unit spread the love around from the group’s career performing multiple tracks off Isbell’s last four studio albums, as well as multiple tracks from his days with Drive-By Truckers, the best active Southern Rock group around.
One of my favorite performances from the concert was the epic “Decoration Day,” which was the title track to the Drive-By Truckers 2003 album. The song tells the tale of a Hatfields & McCoys like feud in the South and might be Isbell’s finest rocker. He ended his set with “Never Gonna Change,” which included a fantastic guitar duel between Isbell and Sadler Vaden. The two-guitar sound to the 400 Unit is exceptional, with Isbell and Vaden taking turns on solos on many of the night’s tunes.
It’s always great hearing “Stockholm” and “Cover Me Up” in concert, two of Isbell’s finest vocal performances to date. It’s probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve heard these two in concert and they always stand among the finest in his set.
The 400 Unit is one of the finest backing bands in any musical genre with the incredibly talented drummer Chad Gamble leading the way with bassist Jimbo Hart, keyboardist (and fantastic accordion player on “Codeine”) Derry DeBorja and Vaden on guitar following behind. One unfortunate aspect of the 400 Unit’s performance on Sunday night is it didn’t include violinist and Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires, as she’s back home in Nashville putting the final touches on an upcoming album that Isbell thought would be released toward the end of summer. She’s always a great addition to the group’s sound, but they trucked right along without her.
Isbell finished up his fantastic set with a two-song encore that included a rip-roaring cover of the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers classic “Refugee,” much to the enjoyment of the packed house – which finally decided to get up on their damn feet for the encore (more on that in a bit). Isbell has been playing a Petty song in tribute to the late rocker who died last October at many of his shows, typically alternating “Refugee” and “American Girl.”
Isbell would then finish his show with the beautiful “If We Were Vampires,” which is an unusual love song in that it talks about one’s mortality and how even the greatest of loves will end, and it’s something that makes love stronger.
Fantastic singer-songwriter James McMurtry opened the night for Isbell and the 400 Unit with an eight-song set that included incredible story songs “Copper Canteen” and “You Got to Me” from his 2015 release Complicated Game. I was thrilled McMurtry performed these two selections, which show the great literary apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree as he’s the son of Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry.
I hate to end my review on a negative note as the performances were great, and the venue was fantastic both in sound, look and feel, but the audience – which I thought would be a little cooler than it was – got on my nerves multiple times throughout the night. First off, this is a damn rock show with one of the finest singer-songwriters and performers touring today and people acted treated it more like an orchestral performance. It’s OK to get up and move and scream along with the performer at the top of your lungs. The only time the crowd seemed to think it was OK to get up and move was the many trips to the concessions for overpriced beer and then the trips to the restroom that resulted from the previous trips. I’m not sure if others in attendance had as much of an issue with this, but Row M on the Orchestra Level of the venue had me contemplating tripping folks as they constantly walked by. It was obnoxious, but not quite enough to ruin a terrific night of music.
by Julian Spivey
I’ll be seeing Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Robinson Music Center in Little Rock on Sunday (Jan. 21) and it’s a show I’ve been looking forward to seeing ever since it was announced months ago. Isbell is my favorite singer-songwriter of his generation and with each album he releases his legacy within the Americana genre grows and grows. That makes creating a list of his 10 greatest songs an almost impossible task (this is the second one I’ve done over the years – he’s released two albums since the last). His music means so much to me that I honestly have a hard time ranking his best work. I’m 100 percent certain of the top two on this list, but No. 3-10 may as well have been put in a hat and chosen at random. That’s how good he is.
10. Hope the High Road
“Hope the High Road” was the first song I heard off Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s fantastic The Nashville Sound album and coming off the incredibly tough 2016 it was the most hopeful thing I could’ve heard. I’m not sure any other chorus spoke to me as much in 2017 as: “I know you’re tired/And you ain’t sleeping well/Uninspired/And likely mad as hell/But wherever you are/I hope the high road leads you home again/To a world you want to live in.”
Jason Isbell doesn’t do too many love songs, but “Stockholm” from his 2013 album Southeastern is a darn good one. “Stockholm” is probably based on the love of his now wife (and fellow musician) Amanda Shires getting him through the alcoholism he faced. She helped him replace his old love of booze (which he was shackled too) and made him see what true love really could be.
8. Dress Blues
“Dress Blues,” from Jason Isbell’s debut solo album Sirens of the Ditch in 2007, is the heartbreaking story of an American hero who doesn’t return home from a war that he likely should’ve never been sent to fight in the first place. The song was based on the real-life death of Corporal Matthew Conley, from Isbell’s hometown, who died in the Iraq War.
7. Something More Than Free
Jason Isbell’s follow up to his 2013 stunner Southeastern turned out to be noticeably more upbeat and optimistic than the somber release that appeared on many “best of” list two years ago, but everybody seemed to love it just as much. The title track “Something More Than Free” showed the world that this Americana darling could write something more country and true-to-life than any of those hacks currently releasing records in Nashville. “Something More Than Free” is a true working man’s anthem and something we should all try to strive for.
6. Cover Me Up
“Cover Me Up,” the 2014 Americana Honors & Awards winner for Song of the Year off Southeastern, is like “Stockholm” in that it was likely born out of Amanda Shires’ love and guidance through a rough time during which Jason Isbell was sobering up from alcohol addiction. The beautiful song, both lyrically and through Isbell’s devastating vocals, details a relationship in which the protagonist needs nothing more than his love.
5. Decoration Day
“Decoration Day,” which appeared on Jason Isbell’s very first album with the Southern Rock group the Drive-By Truckers, is one of those perfect short stories set to music. The Drive-By Truckers must have liked it quite a lot as they named their 2003 album after it. The song tells of a sort of modern day Hatfields & McCoys feud between two families by the name of the Hills and Lawsons and the history of that feud. It’s brilliant work by Isbell as a songwriter and performer.
4. Songs That She Sang in the Shower
“Songs That She Sang in the Shower,” from 2013’s Southeastern, is an absolutely devastating song about a failed relationship. Southeastern is filled with devastating tunes for various reasons and this one ranks very high on that album. The narrator of the song recalls losing a love to his own stupidity and excesses and how the one thing he absolutely can’t stand since she’s gone is to hear or remember all the songs she used to sing in the shower.
“Yvette,” one of the real highlights from 2013’s Southeastern, is another dreadfully depressing song from that record, but one that’s beautifully written and performed. The song takes on the important topic of sexual abuse of a minor with the narrator’s classmate Yvette being abused by her father and him setting out to see that he’s done his horrible deed for the very last time.
“Outfit,” a favorite of Jason Isbell’s fans, is one of his tracks that came out of his days with the popular Southern Rock act the Drive-By Truckers. The song about a father’s advice to his son leaving home appeared on the Truckers’ 2003 album Decoration Day, his first of three albums with that group before setting out on his own (or rather being fired when his alcoholism at the time caused problems). “Outfit” is proof that Isbell’s been one of this country’s very best singer-songwriters going back as far as a dozen years.
1. Alabama Pines
Jason Isbell’s “Alabama Pines” from his 2011 album Here We Rest is quite possibly the best song written of any genre in the last half decade – even though many have likely never heard it due to Isbell’s Americana genre not getting any airplay whatsoever on mainstream radio. “Alabama Pines” is loneliness and desolation defined in its exquisitely crafted verses that truly speak to the hearts and minds of those who’ve experienced similar things to what the song’s narrator is going through. The perfect vocals from Isbell, whose voice is truly a revelation, will knock you off your feet.