Jason Isbell Is Still the Best Songwriter Country Music Has
Listen to "Cumberland Gap," a new track from his forthcoming 'The Nashville Sound'
Photo by Danny Clinch via All Eyes Media
So much digital ink has been spilled over the past few months arguing about the rights and representation of the rural working class white man that at this point it's become a tired discussion for those of us who spend our days online, reading and thinking and reacting. When it comes to country music, a genre whose foundation is poor and working-class white men, it can be seen as even more of a tired cliche. "Enough already!" I want to scream at the top of my lungs. "White men, take a step back! Sit down! Let me hear from someone else for once!"
Telling a story is still the most important thing music can do, especially during the Trump administration's reign of terror. And when it comes to country music, Jason Isbell is one of the few people I trust to tell a story honestly and with compassionate critique. He is nothing but not brutally honest about himself and the rest of the world (his Twitter is also spectacular and I don't just say that because he follows me [hey Jason]). "Cumberland Gap" may not be the most politically forward song on Jason Isbell and The Four Hundred unit's upcoming album The Nashville Sound, (there are more, they are all incredible) but goddamn does it rip.
"This song is about working class desperation, really," Isbell says. "It was written as a tribute to the children of the coal mining regions."
If you've ever spent some of your life in an impoverished and under-supported area that relies on the land to provide economic safety, or just simply felt trapped by your circumstances—economic, racial, gendered—"Cumberland Gap" will ring true for you, because the Cumberland Gap, a real place, can also be your own mind, or your job, or whatever ails you at the moment. That's what makes Isbell's writing so wonderful to listen to at this juncture in our lives.
Preorder The Nashville Sound here. It's out June 16.
Follow Annalise Domenighini on Twitter as she tries to get Waffle House to open in New York City.