This article has been updated.
Amid warnings to steal ourselves for a decidedly more rock presentation when Jason Isbell releases his newest record The Nashville Sound June 16th—on both the record itself and on the subsequent stage presentation for the supporting tour—Isbell throws a bit of an off speed pitch our way for the 3rd song he’s released so far from the record, “If We Were Vampires.”
A love song with avid participation from his wife and singing partner Amanda Shires, the song delves into the sad perspective that forever in a marriage or a relationship is ultimately a relative term. Though the fantasy of timeless love may be alive in the hearts of young lovers, as we age and give rise to young ones ourselves and watch age overtake the older ones in our families, the reality that Isbell sings about as “Maybe we’ll get 40 years together” puts into perspective just how fleeting love and life is.
The sad reality is that barring double tragedy, one lover will leave before the other, an not uncommonly with the gulf of a decade or more in between. But Isbell doesn’t point these things out just as a lament or a sharp lesson of reality. He uses perspective in “If We Were Vampires” as a conveyance to one’s own heart to cherish every moment and make the most of it, because those moments, however powerful, are incredibly finite. But most importantly, Isbell uses that perspective to covey a deep affection for his other half.
Including talk of “Vampires” to illustrate immortality does feel a little bit … oh, adolescent perhaps, though not in an immature way, but maybe in a way that gives rise in the mind’s eye to the Twilight saga of movies or perhaps Buffy. But this concern tends to succumb to the quality of the writing with subsequent listens to the song.
Just because “If We Were Vampires” is acoustic doesn’t mean it’s more country, though it will be easier to gravitate towards for a country and folk audience compared to the shouts and riffs from one of the new Isbell’s other early tracks, “Cumberland Gap.” Even some of the most brutal rock albums tend to include a ballad or two, and don’t be surprised if The Nashville Sound boasts a few of them. Though Isbell’s history has one foot in loud Southern rock guitars, the other is in intimate moments with a pad of paper and a Martin D-42, and no Isbell project can expect to get too far away from either of those influences.
Jason Isbell has now shown a dramatic range of what listeners can expect from The Nashville Sound. The next question is taken cohesively, what the results will be from an artist who’s self-imposed incredibly high expectations with his previous output. “If We Were Vampires” seems to give the new project the possibility of fulfilling those lofty standards.