Monday, May 1st, 2017

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Hope the High Road

Amen, Jason…


Thomas Inskeep: I hate to use the word in the blurb, but this is a song of pure hope for those disheartened by the results of 11/8/16 in the US. That said, I appreciate that Isbell writes about it in emotional, rather than political terms, and that this meat-and-potatoes rocker has the music to back up its lyrics. I’ve never been much of an Isbell fan before, but this sounds to me like what my friends insist that they hear in the Hold Steady (another band I’ve never “gotten”). The likes of Seger and Mellencamp would likely be proud of this heartland rock. 

Hannah Jocelyn: “There can’t be more of them than us” sounds like a cliché in the making, and I mean that as a compliment, considering that Isbell recently made modern standards in the form of “Cover Me Up” and “24 Frames.” I also like that while the title line can be interpreted as an allusion to “when they go low, we go high,” it’s more about staying strong and not resorting to blind rage than, idk, being “respectable.” It might be conflated with that dumb but catchy Sheryl Crow song from a few weeks ago, but as a whole, it’s a message that resonates. Isbell is way too smart and self-aware to do the whole “if you reach out to people that want to kill you, everything will be alright!” thing; even the “down in the ditch” line is about Isbell himself becoming more aware of the world, rather than suggesting a lame “don’t fight” message. (His take on that is “stay vigilant but classy,” which might cause issue with those who believe that history isn’t made by being “classy,” but that’s beside the point). I wasn’t a huge fan of it at first, but viewing “Hope the High Road” as a song about Jason Isbell processing the world, rather than Jason Isbell making another universal standard, turns this from a good if somewhat misguided song to yet another great one. It’s not a classic, not really a time capsule either, and it doesn’t need to be.

Maxwell Cavaseno: #Americana left the pop-sphere somewhat and returned to its secret home of origin: indie rock. While certainly indie is not the end-all-be-all of people trying to escape to a truer more authentic life based on geetar strings and shunning the technocapitalist grossness of modernity, indie’s weird sandblasting of things like country, Springsteen, Replacements, and whatever into a realm of clutching the wheel and being powerless but Wary above all. NPR is truly no different than conservative talk radio at times when its used as escapism from the world around you into a world where you Know Better than what the world wants to sell you. Former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell with his pitiful rocker pose is dripping with disappointment and doing his best on “Hope the High Road” to do a call to arms to people who just don’t get what’s going on around them… Except they don’t know because they’re willfully ignorant. Isbell’s evolution from has seen him go from a musician too rough around the edges to fit the mold to a guy so frustratingly devoted to the mold and to his flock of fans looking for someone as unable to come to terms with their world and their sense of being out of step that they themselves formed. Its absolutely pathetic. Hope, for Isbell and his followers, is not the high-road from despair but instead their inflated powers of denial and elitism being made to sound righteous.

Edward Okulicz: Agreeable, kind-of vaguely political Americana, but that’s the issue… it’s too agreeable.

Alfred Soto: Whew — he can rock again. After a few albums of well-meaning exercises in somnambulism, the former Drive-By Trucker writes a homily requiring amps and riffs. A gesture, but just good enough.

David Sheffieck: This sounds so much like Gold-era Ryan Adams — specifically “New York” — that I had to check whether Adams was involved. (Apparently not?) But it’s as timeless a sound as any can be and it works for him; the non-specifically political lyric arguably less so. But it’s undeniably catchy, in the guitar riffs if not so much in the actual lyrics of the chorus, and that counts for something. I’d vote for it in the absence of a better option.

Jonathan Bradley: Jason Isbell is a writer who can sing an opening couplet like “I used to think this was my town/What a stupid thing to think” and then bend away from Springsteen and Eric Church to resolve into more shaded sentiments. “Hope the High Road” knows how lyrics like these sound — Isbell also makes room for “I’ve heard enough of the white man’s blues” and “last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know” — but it’s also a song of aging and uncertainty and emotional ache. “Wherever you are, I hope the high road leads you home again,” could be a prayer for a lost love as much as it could a community or a country. It’s accompanied by a heartland-oriented arrangement drawn with the sharp lines of Midwestern highways rather than a dark crawl out of Dixie.

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One Response to “Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Hope the High Road”

  1. Maxwell and I continue to be the yin and yang of the Jukebox