Jason Isbell, "Something More Than Free" (Southeastern Records)
Sometimes Jason Isbell's words work best on paper, because that's how it goes with homophones. "I thought that I was running, too, but I was running from," he sings on a bouncy paean to the pursuit of happiness on "If It Takes a Lifetime."
But even without liner notes, the lyrical depth of "Something More Than Free" is easy to appreciate. Isbell finds fresh approaches to such topics as pledging allegiance, pulling up roots and blue-collar blues, and matching his thoughtful words with alt-country arrangements leavened by an occasional string section or guitar solo.
The former Drive-By Trucker gives voice to hard truths, such as on "Children of Children," which sums up the toll of teen pregnancy in four bars. "I was riding on my mother's hip ... all the years I took from her just by being born."
On "Palmetto Rose," a South Carolinian wrestles with his state's complicated heritage, which shows Isbell is a troubadour in touch with his times. The song's homophones are ho-hum, but when Isbell mentions Civil War lore, he uses a bodacious synonym for baloney.