Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell takes a countrified turn with his new project and speeds to No. 1 on Top Country Albums with Something More Than Free. The set, his first to hit the chart, starts with 46,000 units sold in the week ending July 23, according to Nielsen Music.
Isbell, who spent six years as a member of the Drive-By Truckers -- leaving the band in 2007 to start his solo career -- is pleasantly surprised by the album's impact on the country chart. "I'm overwhelmed by the early success of the album," Isbell tells Billboard. "I never expected my music to be accepted by anything resembling mainstream, and in all honesty it makes me realize I have more in common with my fellow music fans than I had previously thought."
Isbell barely beats out veteran Alan Jackson's latest effort, Angels and Alcohol, for the chart crown, as Jackson also sells a rounded-out 46,000 copies, just a few hundred shy of Isbell's total. Jackson's strong start is a positive indicator for traditional country music fans who have not had a whole lot of new music catering to their tastes. Even though today's country often incorporates pop/rock sounds, Jackson knows that the audience for traditional country still exists. "I'm just glad that people still want to hear the music I'm making," he tells Billboard. "As long as they do, I'll keep doing it."
Jackson's brand of twang has always had a coolness factor, and "Jim and Jack and Hank," the album's first single follows, that form as an irreverent, yet comical ode to a sinking relationship. The song is one of seven that Jackson penned for the new album.
How country radio responds to the single may be a sign of whether the format is open to letting traditional sounds back on the air. In its third week on Country Airplay, "Jim and Jack and Hank" ranks at No. 50. One station having success with the song is KKGO Los Angeles, whose PD Tonya Campos says: "It's great to hear traditional country music back on the radio. There seems to be a lot of questions to where the format's going, and there's certainly a poppy trend right now. But every once in a while we need a gentle tap on the shoulder about where country music's foundation is, and this song is a very good reminder."
Campos adds, "I'm in my 39th year in radio, 21 of them in the country format, and I never fret about where the music is going. It's a continuous cycle. It always comes back to its roots -- it has to if it's going to stay country."
GILBERT, BRYAN RULE SONGS LISTS
Brantley Gilbert achieves his fourth No. 1 on Country Airplay, as "One Hell of an Amen" skates 2-1 in its 37th week (up 8 percent to 48 million audience impressions). He last led the list with "Bottoms Up" for a week in May 2014. Meanwhile, Luke Bryan takes the helm of Hot Country Songs for a 10th time overall and the first time in more than a year as "Kick the Dust Up" rises 2-1 as the Digital Gainer (up 10 percent to 57,000 downloads). Bryan's first chart-topper was "Rain Is a Good Thing" in July 2010, and his most recent was as a featured vocalist on Florida Georgia Line's "This Is How We Roll" in 2014.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.