Variations on the Appalachian folk tune “Cumberland Gap” paint the area – a mountain pass spanning Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia – as a hard-fought piece of ground, a Civil War battleground celebrated for its natural purity. In the present day, Jason Isbell conjures up a much bleaker vision of the territory with an original song from his new album.
A squall of guitar feedback opens “Cumberland Gap,” some clear evidence that Isbell’s latest album The Nashville Sound is a considerably more rocking affair than previous releases Southeastern and Something More Than Free. “There’s an answer here if I look hard enough / There’s an answer why I’ve always reached for the harder stuff,” sings Isbell, propelled by an antsy, slightly-ahead drum beat and slashing electric guitars. Isbell’s voice is drenched in ominous echo, his words tumbling out like River-era Springsteen, as he describes a coal miner’s kid who dreams of escape and battles boredom and despair with booze and opioids. “Maybe the Cumberland gap just swallows you whole,” he suggests, and it’s hard to argue with him.
“I was just trying to make a record of where my life is and write the best songs I can, it just so happened that almost half of this record were songs that were uptempo and loud,” Isbell told Rolling Stone Country about The Nashville Sound, which was produced by Dave Cobb.
Isbell previously released the politically charged “Hope the High Road” from The Nashville Sound, which officially arrives June 16th. He’ll head out on tour after the album’s release, playing multiple stops in New York, Austin and Nashville.