Jason Isbell Releases New Song “Hope The High Road”

photo: David McClister
photo: David McClister

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But I Ain’t Fighting with You Down in the Ditch
I’ll Meet You Up Here on the Road
I Know You’re Tired and You Ain’t Sleeping Well
Uninspired and Likely Mad as Hell
But Wherever You Are I Hope The High Road Leads You Home Again
To A World You Want to Live In

The influence of anger on the human soul, and the propensity to judge others and tribalize ourselves, is an incredible force of nature because its ingrained in all of us by birth. It’s a part of the human design—these chemical reactions that hold such sway on our hearts and minds, and brings out the worst in us in the worst of moments until hate becomes habit, and we search for what to be angry over instead of where we hold consensus, or where resolution may lay. You have to learn to lose that part of yourself; it doesn’t just slough off or shrink with age. The default of the human experience is to fear and distrust.

One of the things that has made Jason Isbell such an enlightening songwriter over the years is his distinctly worldly view panned to a Southern perspective. As a son of the deep South himself, he is incapable of trivializing the nuances of the culture war, deliberately speaking to both sides, and the flaws and virtues of each.

There has been some concern about just where the political dividing line on Isbell’s new record The Nashville Sound may fall, and if this will make it too polarized to find wide popularity. But with the album’s first single, the Muscle Shoals native takes the high road. Instead of delving into any real specificity, the song makes a point we should all be able to agree with, which is that the first step to resolving factions is to elevate the level of discourse and respect among the parties, and to hope for the best for people no matter what their leanings. Other songs on Isbell’s new record may eventually rebuff this universal message, but “Hope The High Road” is apolitical if it’s anything.

“Last year was a son of a bitch,” Isbell shouts, and whether you lost your job in the Heartland, are disappointed Trump won, or are still depressed that Merle Haggard is no longer with us, this rings true. We can all come together through shared grief and disappointment to see that those dividing lines between us are not as deeply rooted as those who love to draw them would have us believe.

Isbell also takes his message about hope in the high road to his own personal perspective, and perhaps gives you a glimpse of what you can expect from the new record. “I sang enough about myself,” he says. “So if you’re looking for some bad news. You can find it somewhere else.”

Like Isbell has said ahead of the release on his new album The Nashville Sound on June 16th, this record will be more rock, and more heavy that the previous few efforts, but “Hope The High Road” still has that harmonious, Southern-textured heart to it, and can be easily defined as Southern rock, or if you wish, classified as solidly Americana. Either way, it is a spirited effort, deftly-written and energetically delivered that does exactly what you want from a debut single, which is to get those musical glands salivating for what the full course will serve.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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