Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free album hits stores next week, bringing with it a tracklist that veers between the stripped-back acoustics of “If it Takes a Lifetime” and the electrified stomp of “Palmetto Rose.” On the title track, though, Isbell slows down the tempo and cranks up the imagery, spinning the story of a blue collar worker who spends his weekdays breaking rocks and driving nails, working his way toward some sort of reward that may not even appear during his lifetime.
“The older you get, the more of your freedom you trade in, in order to have things around you that you care about,” Isbell told Rolling Stone Country last March, during the middle of the album’s three-week recording session in Nashville. “People spend so much time talking about freedom, and on one hand, that’s an illusion. I’m not free to go out and do whatever the hell I want, because I have a wife and she’s pregnant, and I really need to keep my shit together. So a lot of the focus of this record is about that. It’s about what you trade in to be happy. And I don’t feel like it’s complacency; it’s just adulthood.”
Driven forward by Isbell’s voice and acoustic guitar, “Something More Than Free” shines a light on the 400 Unit — his longtime backup band, whose members fill the song with fiddle, piano and swells of electric guitar — without taking the focus away from the group’s captain. The son of a house painter who has yet to hang up his tools, Isbell turns “Something More Than Free” into a tribute to an older generation of workers who’re still chasing after the American Dream, one paycheck at a time.
“It’s a country song,” he adds. “Not in the way that country songs sound like modern rock songs or hip-hop right now now, but it’s got a country sounding melody, and the images are about work and family.”
Something More Than Free will be released on July 17th, coinciding with the music industry’s recent decision to move all new releases from Tuesday to Friday.