MAGNET’s #21 Album Of 2017: Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit’s “The Nashville Sound”

Jason Isbell’s third album in a row with outlaw-country “it” producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton) is the pair’s most fruitful collaboration yet. Title notwithstanding, it certainly doesn’t sound like your typical Nashville product. Marked by a tangible intimacy and warmth and loaded with crisp performances from the 400 Unit, this is a true band album. It also happens to feature Isbell’s finest songwriting to date, with lived-in melodies that resonate and a remarkably varied narrative perspective. Cobb tinkers with the Isbell formula in interesting—but never obtrusive—ways, coaxing the accelerated pace that makes “Cumberland Gap” such an exhilarating rocker and adding a vaguely progressive intro and outro to “Anxiety,” one of the most harrowingly direct studies of emotional turbulence ever written. In quieter moments, Isbell continues to extract plainspoken poetry from the numbing predictability of life’s harsh realities. “Maybe we’ll get 40 years together/But one day I’ll be gone, or one day you’ll be gone,” he concedes on “If We Were Vampires,” a gorgeously delicate duet sung with wife Amanda Shires. Yep, death is inevitable—about as inevitable as another great Jason Isbell album. —Hobart Rowland