Back in March, each of us set out to pick 100 of our favorite albums. The intention was simply to focus on personal favorites rather than trying to pick a list of the 100 greatest albums of all-time.
When we got done with those lists, we compared our choices, and 12 of our picks were the same. So we decided to rank those 12 picks in order and present them in descending order from No. 12 to No. 1. Today we present No. 6.
- Chuck Cox and Kendall Webb
ALBUM OF THE DAY
"Cover Me Up," "Stockholm," "Elephant," "Flying Over Water," "Different Days" and "Super 8"
Two spots ago in the countdown, we featured Drive-By Trucker's magnificentSouthern Rock Opera. Jason Isbell joined the band on its follow-up, Decoration Day, and stuck around for two more records before launching a solo career in 2007. I enjoyed his contributions to the band and the handful of tracks I heard off his first three solo albums, but this album is on an entirely different plane of greatness. Every one of the dozen songs are a clinic in songwriting. On one track, such as the gut-wrenching "Elephant," Isbell's lyrics practically force the tears out of your eyes. On another, like "Super 8," he's playing for laughs and having a great time. That sums up how I feel about this album. It's an emotional, 47-minute roller-coaster ride that takes you to the highest and highs and lowest of lows with some of the greatest music ever recorded. Isbell has continued to steadily release great albums, including this year's sublime Reunions. I believe he is one of the greatest living songwriters on the planet. I'm not even convinced he's not the best. This record will always be one of my all-time favorites.
As Chuck pointed out, we featured Drive-By Truckers a few days ago, and today's artist was a member of that band from 2001 until venturing out solo in 2007. He's been on a roll ever since, and this 2013 set finds him at the peak of his songwriting powers. While it was easy a few years ago to picture Isbell as a Southern rocker, it's increasingly hard to put him in that box or any other, for that matter, since he went solo.
This album, for instance, finds him squarely in the Americana camp leaning toward the folk-country wing. In fact, this album and the one that followed two years later (Something More Than Free) earned the artist enough country cred that he eventually debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in 2015, and the institution still maintains a feature page for Isbell on its website. Of course, Isbell is country, but not in the traditional country radio sense; you won't hear his songs on country radio primarily because they are too intelligent and well-written to be casually tossed off among the dross that infiltrates the airwaves of your average country-pop station these days. You're more likely to find him on satellite radio or terrestrial American stations that play a more progressive style of country music. In the end, however, you don't need radio these days to establish yourself as an artist worthy of being heard, and take my word (and Chuck's), Isbell is worthy of your time. Start here, and if this record catches your fancy, then work your way forward and back to explore the work of one of America's best contemporary songsmiths.
BONUS ALBUM OF THE DAY
To The Sunset (2018)
Why I Love It
Amanda Shires is the wife of Jason Isbell, and a fine musician and songwriter in her own right.
Shires learned to play the fiddle growing up in West Texas and eventually joined the Texas Playboys, the former backing band of country music legend Bob Wills. She met Isbell during his time with the Drive-By Truckers, but eventually launched her own solo career as well. This album finds Shires experimenting and finding comfort further away from her country roots while still maintaining traditional elements her songs.
"Parking Lot Pirouette," "Swimmer" and "Break Out The Champagne"