Single Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Hope the High Road”

“Hope the High Road”
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Written by Jason Isbell

After two outstanding solo albums, Jason Isbell has finally achieved the notoriety and credibility to match his overwhelming talent as a singer and a songwriter.

“Hope the High Road” signals a shift from the vulnerability and intimacy of those solo sets, as it reunites Isbell with his backing band, the 400 Unit. The resulting record is more aggressive and rock-oriented than his recent solo work, with a raw energy that makes an interesting pairing with Isbell’s typically introspective lyrics.

It’s as well-written as anything from Southeastern or Something More Than Free, but the sheer power of the band’s performance nearly overwhelms Isbell’s vocal.  At times, it sounds like the band is mismatched to the man at the mic, like they can’t quite keep up with each other. This is particularly evident in the first verse, where Isbell has more words to sing than the band has instrumentation to support.

He’s as sharp a songwriter as ever, but at least on this single, it sounds like his band hasn’t kept up with his artistic growth over the past five years. Hopefully, the whole album will showcase sophisticated musicianship in a way that the single does not.

Grade: B

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