Best Albums of 2015: ‘Something More Than Free’ by Jason Isbell (No. 6)

Photo by David McClister.

Photo by David McClister.

One review of Jason Isbell’s latest complained that “Something More Than Free” is “an album that contains too few surprises,” as if albums should be akin to haunted hayrides or new puppies under the Christmas tree. I’ll take thrills over surprises any day, and what’s thrilling about Isbell’s fifth solo album — and what lands it at No. 6 in my ongoing top-10 countdown — is the way the singer, songwriter and guitarist has refined and elevated his craft on a batch of songs that rank among his best.

In a review for Paste, I wrote, “Isbell has over the years become a more patient lyricist, carefully honing his words into needle-sharp points that penetrate without making a visible mark. That’s not to say his songs leave no trace.” He’s a master at evoking the heartache and longing of the folks who live in the kinds of places he describes on “Speed Trap Town,” bringing an interior narrative out on “24 Frames” or lifting a commen sentiment into something akin to poetry on “To a Band That I Loved.”

The latter song illustrates what makes Isbell so relatable, I wrote for Paste. Like most of us, “he’s searching for meaning, too, and even if he’s found it lately in sobriety, marriage and . . . [fatherhood], he’s more than willing to hold the light steady while the rest of us keep looking.”

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