Jason Isbell Laments ‘Real Bad’ Modern Country Music
Jason Isbell pulls no punches in a new interview, sounding off on a variety of topics including how little he cares for most contemporary country music.
Isbell released a new album titled The Nashville Sound in June, but he skipped doing any promo gigs at the 2017 CMA Music Fest, an event that according to conventional Nashville wisdom is among the most important of the year. The annual festival brings together all of the biggest stars in country music, new acts, journalists and fans. In a tweet, Isbell explained simply, "The reason is because I did not want to do that."
"I don't like that kind of music at all," the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter tells Rolling Stone Country. "Sometimes I'll hear a song that I really like that's in that world. I like that song 'Girl Crush.' Some of Miranda Lambert's songs are really well-written. [Chris] Stapleton's great. But most of that stuff is just real bad music to me. It also seems like a huge mess. I like Nashville when it's just regular old Nashville and there's not a whole lot going on."
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Isbell owns his own record label and his own song publishing, allowing him to operate well outside the Nashville establishment. He says in an age of declining overall sales, he has more in common with more mainstream artists than it might appear.
"Nobody is selling a ton of records," Isbell notes. "Yesterday, someone tweeted the Garth Brooks Chris Gaines album sold 2 million copies. At the time, that was considered a disaster. Now, everyone would kill for that disaster."
He cites Stapleton's Traveller as an example. The album has been one of the biggest hits of the last several years despite middling radio support.
"I don't even know if Chris Stapleton's Traveller is at 2 million yet. So we're all in the same boat."
Isbell is married to singer-songwriter Amanda Shires, and he also takes issue with the widely reported inequality for women in country music -- particularly the now-infamous "Tomatogate" episode in which a male radio programmer likened women in country to tomatoes in a salad, while men were the lettuce.
"That got me thinking how little value is given to women in that world," Isbell reflects. "I've seen it with Amanda. She writes her own songs and tours, and through her experience I've seen how much harder it is for her. You don't get the same respect. It is not a level playing field by any means."
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