Sometimes an artist gets a Grammy who actually deserves it, and this was one of those times.
This week, Jason Isbell won two Grammys. American Roots Song: “24 Frames.” Americana Album: “Something More Than Free.”
Sometimes they get it right.
In the case of the song, it couldn’t have been any kind of close call. Consider the power and intimacy of the opening lines:
This is how you make yourself vanish into nothing
And this is how you make yourself worthy of the love that she
Gave to you back when you didn’t own a beautiful thing
This is how you make yourself call your mother
And this is how you make yourself closer to your brother
And remember him back when he was small enough to help you sing
The bad news, for those who reject any form of country music, is that this CD has been embraced by country fans: It opened at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart. The worse news: This CD is more like alt-country, which is, according to Don Schlitz, “the only genre with more artists than fans.”
Your annoyed emails over the years have taught me that you are not enthusiasts of alt-country. But while I generally accept the proposition that the customer is always right, may I urge you, just this once, to read more lyrics…
This is how you see yourself floating on the ceiling
And this is how you help her when her heart stops beating
What happened to the part of you that noticed every changing wind
This is how you talk to her when no one else is listening
And this is how you help her when the muse goes missing
The chorus is unsparing:
You thought God was an architect, now you know
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow.
And everything you built
it’s all for show; goes up in flames.
In 24 frames.
Now, if you will, the video:
Not altogether awful? Maybe you’d like to watch him sing it, accompanied on violin and vocals by his pregnant wife Amanda Shires Isbell:
[To buy the CD of ‘Something More Than Free’ from Amazon and get a free MP3 download, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
Jason Isbell is from Alabama. His songs are mostly about “people who aren’t leading the same kind of life that I am, people who might not get the same kind of rewards for their work” — country people, Southern people. Translation: People who trade time for money. Given recent trends, that’s very often me, and maybe you too.
“Something More Than Free” is his 6th CD. Along the way, he got divorced, got remarried, got sober, and, in 2013, released a CD called “Southeastern.” Walter Kirn has said of it:
A troubled young troubadour, newly married, stepped away from the darkness of addiction into a new, uncertain life of clarity and commitment, reflecting ruefully on his hard won victories and the price he paid attaining them.
That CD swept the 2014 Americana Music Awards, winning Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. The people who love it love it a lot — like a religious artifact. [To buy the CD of “Southeastern” from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
Two more items, both optional, the last one very much optional.
I’m fascinated by work-in-progress. Here’s a look at the creation of “24 Frames.”
Finally, on “Southeastern,” Isbell has a song called “Elephant.” It’s about cancer, and a friend/lover who died of it. The lyrics are painful in the extreme:
If I’d fucked her before she got sick I’d never hear the end of it
She don’t have the spirit for that now
We just drink our drinks and laugh out loud
And bitch about the weekend crowd
And try to ignore the elephant somehow
The video is even tougher. But if you’ve ever been there, you may find yourself shaking your head: Yes, this is how it was.
This article was originally published on Head Butler.
Photo: Getty Images