Jason Isbell on His Soul-Baring No. 1 Album 'Something More Than Free'

isbell-and-group-l-bb38-fea-2015-billboard-650
David McClister

From Left: Andrew Colvin, Dave Cobb, Jason Isbell, Traci Thomas, David Macias, Jim Flammia photographed on Oct. 23, 2015 at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE
1 Week On Top Country Albums And Top Rock Albums, And 4 Weeks On Folk Albums

Two years ago, Jason Isbell established himself as a critic’s darling with the addiction-haunted narratives of his fourth album, Southeastern. This summer’s follow-up, Something More Than Free, not only reflected the 36-year-old singer-songwriter’s hard-won personal peace, it elevated him to multiformat force: The album reached No. 1 on the Top Rock Albums, Top Country Albums and Folk Albums charts, even edging out a new album from icon Alan Jackson. It also earned him a Grammy nomination for best Americana album; “24 Frames” is up for best American roots song.

 

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DAVE COBB, producer: Jason and I, we barely talked about what the record would be until we got in the studio. I think we did that on purpose. You could angle and plot all you want, but it doesn’t matter until you actually get in there and see what the songs are.

TRACI THOMAS, manager: When he first tweeted that some of these songs were better than Southeastern’s people were like, “That’s blasphemy.” But when they heard them, they said, “You may be right.”

DAVID MACIAS, president, Thirty Tigers: It feels like what he writes is very close to who he is and how he feels. So fans perceive that they’re getting the real, unvarnished Jason when they’re listening to his music, and they are.

ISBELL I think a lot of the shows that we did leading up to the release of the record made people feel like they had a connection with the music. If you go out every night and try to put yourself in a place you were in when you wrote the songs and still manage to have a really good time, that’s something that connects with people on a very basic human level. They’ll buy multiple copies of an album if that album reminds them of that experience.

MACIAS Jason is so engaging in his use of social media that he’s able to bring his intelligence, his humor and all that to his fans every day. He’s a consistent presence in their lives above and beyond the music.

Billboard Year in Music 2015

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of Billboard.

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