Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Intelligent songs intelligently performed, with a songwriter at the microphone conscious of his limitations as a performer, as a member of the human race; this is Jason Isbell’s best realized album since leaving Drive-By Truckers. “We’re all carrying one big burden, sharing one fate,” he sings on “White Man’s World.” But I doubt white hegemony prevents Isbell and violinst/wife Amanda Shires from “chang[ing] that Nashville sound” or commercial reality – no way songs that recoil so obviously from production gewgaws as Isbell’s would have gotten on the radio before 1980 or even 1970. So he’s not, to quote another tune, the last of his “kind”; plenty of intelligent folkies will attempt to storm the Nashville gates. On the other hand, “Last of My Kind” boasts an arrangement in which players respond to each other in quietly professional ways: Derry Deborja’s electric piano adds shade to Isbell and Sadler Vaden’s guitar accompaniment. Dig the way Isbell stretches the four syllables of “Anxiety,” punctuating it with electric strumming. I hope it isn’t gauche to lament the absence of more stompers like “Cumberland Gap” while also lamenting how even “Cumberland Gap” needs more rhythmic oomph than Chad Gamble provides, more to evoke the chorus sensation of the Gap swallowing you whole. “Chaos and Clothes” and especially “If We Were Vampires” are good tunes and fabulous titles wanting discord and sharp teeth. But enough. Thirty-eight, several years into a sobriety that has kept him alive, buoyed by the low six-figure sales that The Nashville Sound will likely ship, Isbell promises to hang around long enough to keep refining a craft for which he has an almost sacral devotion. Keeping an eye on the charts, however, will be good for his craft.
2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap
Swae Lee gets the funniest hook as the voice of Chainz’s mama on “Poor Fool,” taunting him about not closing his mouth while eating – Swae Lee! The most persuasive moment is a Mike Dean-produced reminscence of growing up in College Park wearing Gucci flip-flops with corns and bunions. My favorite guest is Monica on “Burgler Bars,” playing Mary J. Blige to Chainz’s Ghostface but without the surrealist wordplay. The most dramatic performance is “OG Kush Diet” – spare, rattling, ice cold about Chainz partying on a yacht while his partner dies until a reggae interpolation reminds him he’s still alive with a pocketful of blue cheese. Funnier, powerfuller, and chillier than expected, in short.