Jason Isbell’s “Nashville Sound” doesn’t have the party-pop feel of contemporary country music. Despite the name, it is atypical of today’s Nashville sound. It is more at home with classic country and the politically charged music of The Outlaws in the 1970’s. Because of this, some people look to Isbell as a reformer, or savior, of country music. He rejects both titles, completely disinterested in any crusade to change the genre. Even so, he continues to shake up the mainstream flow, if only by comparison. His solo performance of “If We Were Vampires” on “The Daily Show” is a prime example of his talent and ability to touch a melancholy chord like the great country artists of generations past.
“If We Were Vampires” display’s Isbell’s keen lyrical sense. I would never have thought “vampires” had a place in country music, but after hearing the song think it’s the perfect imagery for a somber love ballad. Vampires aren’t afraid of death. They don’t have to worry about aging or the passing of time. But Isbell, even in the sweetest moments with his wife, can’t help but feel like time is slipping away.
“It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever/ Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone/ Maybe we’ll get 40 years together/ But one day I’ll be gone/ One day you’ll be gone”
It is an uncomfortable, yet inescapable feeling when you’re in love. But when that feeling is put to music, it is a sort of catharsis.
Song like this built the stereotype of country music as a sad group of songwriters who all only sing about losing their jobs, marriages, broken down trucks, and dead dogs. Country music has always been the way rural Americans have shared their stories, both of joy and grief. It just so happens that sad songs tend to resonate more deeply than the happy ones.
“Nashville Sound” is not ideal background music for a party. It is the sort of album you sit with and allow to soak in. It is the current epitome of folk music. We will have to wait and see if it changes Country.