Everything We Know About Jason Isbell’s ‘Something More Than Free’
Following his fourth studio LP Southeastern, domination at the 2014 Americana Music Awards and an enormous amount of critical acclaim, Jason Isbell is preparing to release a new album, Something More Than Free -- and it's a drastic understatement to say that it's highly anticipated.
According to the singer himself, the album's content is strong. He posted on Twitter, "I think these songs are better than the Southeastern batch" -- a bold claim, indeed.
The Boot has rounded up everything we know about Isbell's new record, from the release date to its songs to the process through which Isbell revealed his songs to his band.
Isbell's newest album is called Something More Than Free. The title song is the record's seventh track.
The Release Date
Isbell will release Something More Than Free on July 17, 2015.
The Something More Than Free cover shows Isbell, who is wearing a checkered shirt, standing in what may be a garden; there are flowers to one side of him, and blurry tree branches are visible in the background. The cover is in black and white, except for the flowers, which are in color.
The first song that Isbell has revealed from Something More Than Free is the '90s-influenced "24 Frames," a tribute to Athens, Ga. Why is that city so important to the singer? It's home to his former band, the Drive-By Truckers, which he left in 2007.
“Twenty-four frames roll past the camera every second during a movie,” Isbell explains. “I’ve seen some stuff that’s faster, but [it] always looks like a British TV show. That’s what the song is called, and I think it’s really interesting — it kind of sounds like the way indie rock sounded when I was 15.”
The track features Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, singing harmonies.
Something More Than Free features 11 songs, ranging from folk ballads to Southern rock-infused tunes. Throughout the disc, Isbell's wife provides harmonies and violin, making this a family project that they both can be proud to reveal.
Something More Than Free Track Listing:
1. "If It Takes a Lifetime"
2. "24 Frames"
4. "How to Forget"
5. "Children of Children"
6. "The Life You Chose"
7. "Something More Than Free"
8. "Speed Trap Town"
9. "Hudson Commodore"
10. "Palmetto Rose"
11. "To a Band That I Loved"
Isbell did the bulk work of penning the songs that appear on this new album.
"I don’t really co-write with anybody," he says. "I write all my songs myself."
Anything that Isbell needed help with went to the producer. And speaking of ...
Something More Than Free was produced by Dave Cobb, who also worked on Isbell’s 2013 album, Southeastern. Cobb is quite the sought-after producer, too, having also worked with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jamey Johnson.
If Isbell was stuck on something, Cobb helped prod him forward, whether it was related to song arrangements, bridges or something else.
"... He's got really good instincts for what direction to go in, whether a song needs a bridge or not, how many times to sing the chorus, things like that," says Isbell. "The thing I probably value the most in Dave is his instinct for what works and what doesn’t ... He’s really good at doing essentially what a producer should do, which is provide a standard of taste in the studio."
Isbell's long-time backing band, the 400 Unit, includes bassist Jimbo Hart, drummer Chad Gamble, keyboardist Derry deBorja and guitarist Sadler Vaden.
The Record Label
Southeastern Records, which released Southeastern, will also be releasing Isbell's new album.
Unlike some artists, Isbell doesn't preview new songs out on the road. He believes in not practicing them on the road or playing them in live shows until the record is done -- and his reasoning why is simple: "I don’t want people to to have to un-learn parts. You fall in love with certain parts that you play, if you’re playing these new songs on the road, and then when you get in the studio, [if] those don’t turn out to be the right parts, you’re going to have to fall out of love with them. And that can be really stressful."
In the same sort of mindset, the 36-year-old is adamant about not taking his work home. He leaves it in his "office," so to speak.
"We don't take rough mixes at the end of the night when we’re at the studio," Isbell explains. "And that’s for the same reason, because you can listen to something that needs to be fixed and get really touchy when it’s time to fix it if you’ve been listening to it over and over in the car."
A bigger budget this time around allowed for a bigger room, meaning that Isbell and his band could play together live -- something that's much more difficult to do in close quarters.
"Everything was played initially with multiple musicians, pretty much the whole band, right off the bat," Isbell says. "It’s good to have that conversation, because you can really capture some inspired moments, people playing off of each other, rather than only one half of that equation reacting. When you’re recording over something that’s already been played, the person who’s recorded their part previously can’t react obviously. When you’re able to play live all together at the same time, everybody’s reacting to everybody else."
After the more somber Southeastern, Isbell's forthcoming record will seem downright cheery.
"It doesn’t seem to be as depressing as the last record," Isbell tells Radio.com with a laugh. "I mean, life is depressing and funny and great all at the same time, but that last record did have a pretty high body count, and I don’t think this one’s quite as somber in tone,"
While Something More Than Free is a brand-new album, Isbell is still "trying to do the same thing," which is to "explain relationships between people, and relationships with an individual and his or her past, and the sort of things you trade in to be happy the older you get — I think that’s a big concern on this record ... Exchanging freedom or exchanging something that you thought you had in the past in order to be a happier person in the future."
Isbell and crew are currently on the road, where they will remain through October. See a full list of tour dates at JasonIsbell.com.