When determining the best album in country and Americana in 2015, opinions have been scattered across the board. Throughout 2015 a few albums put itself ahead of the rest of the field and have been the popular choices. For months we knew there wouldn’t be a clear cut winner and every aspect would be taken into consideration when determining Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. When it come down to it, there was one album Derek and myself kept coming back to as the favorite. It was expected to be an album of the year candidate when it was announced to be released and upon the very first listen it lived up to my expectations. I knew I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be the best of the year. Lo and behold it is the best. The 2015 Country Perspective Album of the Year winner is Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free.
Of the eight albums nominated for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award, we ended up narrowing it down to three. What ultimately put Isbell’s Something More Than Free over these other albums for us is the deep and rich songwriting that permeates through this album. Each song is written and laid out with the utmost love and care. You know you’re listening to a special album when you can’t pick the best song on it. This is no surprise considering Jason Isbell is hands down one of the greatest songwriters of this generation and arguably the very best. There are very, very few songwriters that match or top Jason Isbell.
Something More Than Free is an album about life. You fall in love, you get your heartbroken, you lose a loved one, you work to put a roof over your ahead and you do a lot of crying and smiling along the way. Isbell explores these themes with not only an intuitive mind, but a mind that has lived through all of this many times over. He’s been at the very bottom and the very top. This album followed his 2013 album Southeastern, his return album after being in rehab. That album explored dark themes and had a reflecting somber tone. With Something More Than Free, Isbell celebrates life and the joys you can experience when you free your mind from the demons that poison it. And I think that’s why a lot of people considered Something More Than Free a lesser album than Southeastern. While a dark and sad album can seem more interesting, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss a happier album. Really after giving it more listens I think Something More Than Free tops Southeastern. Something More Than Free may not quite match the peaks of Southeastern, but the album as a whole is more cohesive and complete in every department.
Look at a song like “24 Frames.” Upon the surface it seems like a relatively simple song, but really it is so much more. The overriding message of it is that life can change in a moment. One minute your friends with someone or you’re having the best day of your life, then the next day it could all change. Not only could it change, but your life may never be the same, for better or for worse. Life is so simple, yet so volatile. Isbell builds upon this more on “Children of Children” where he reflects on how much his mother’s life changed when he came into her life. He compares it to today where he and his own wife Amanda Shires have their first child. Then there’s the saddest song of the album “Speed Trap Town,” which explores death and reflecting back on a loved one’s life. The song on the album that encapsulates it all is the title track, “Something More Than Free.” You strip away all of the outside stuff in the world around you and really what we’re all wanting in life is something that can’t be bought. You can’t borrow it and you can’t fake it either. It’s something you earn and find. It’s love. It’s freedom. It’s happiness. As Isbell says it’s something more than free.
Something More Than Free reached #1 on the country, rock, folk and Americana charts. I find this the most appropriate for this album and Jason Isbell. His music and this album transcends genre lines. It can resonate with anyone who has a true appreciation for music and life. While Jason Isbell may have not been the flashiest or most critically acclaimed or even the best-selling artist in country and Americana this year, he had himself a great year. Despite these accolades and praise, Isbell would probably tell you his greatest accomplishment this year was becoming a father. You can tell he’s a truly happy man who is winning at life. This shines through on social media. This shines through in interviews. This shines through in his demeanor. And it shines through on Something More Than Free. That is why it is Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.