Song Review – Jason Isbell’s “Hope The High Road”

Jason Isbell The NasLet me get this straight. As a “critic”, it’s my “job” to give you some type of background information on these artists, correct? Yeah right, as if anyone is really coming here of all places to find out who Jason Isbell is. So with that in mind, let’s get down to it.

There’s already been quite the controversy about the true message of this song. Some say it’s a shot at Trump and his supporters. Some are claiming it’s a shot at the whole political scene in general right now, going further by stating that we need to come together and find a common ground.

Personally, I see it as more of the latter than the former, but I’m also a little confused as to what the message actually is. We’ll get to that in a second, but really, this is a song you just might have to draw up your own meaning for. I’ve been “uninspired and mad as hell” about a lot of things in the past year and a half, not just the political scene (Hell, a lot of it had to do with the blog). I’ve also hoped for all of us to find a common ground on a lot of subjects. Hell, this blog’s main focus is on musical philosophy, and God knows I’ve written enough pieces on that.

But like I said, the actual message is a little confusing, and that’s because there’s just a lot going on with this song. The first verse suggests this will be a coming of age song, talking of all the things Isbell “used” to do and how now he just wants to be family man now. It just sounds confusing transitioning from a verse that speaks of Isbell’s past into a chorus focused on the listener. Furthermore, after the chorus, you’re wondering what that verse was even for.

After that we get a split of the personal narrative and the listeners’ perspective, overall coming together to state that we need to be ready to move on and seize the future together. At least I think so. Like I said, it’s not clear. It comes to an alright conclusion I suppose, but for as much of a lyrical genius as Isbell is, the path to getting there isn’t his best work if I’m being honest.

As for the sound, yeah, it’s more up-tempo and rock infused than his songs on his two previous albums, but there’s still something off about this. For one, I don’t think the melody is particularly all that memorable. I’ve given it five listens between yesterday and today, and everytime I walk away from it for awhile, I find myself forgetting how the song even goes. Furthermore, it really just seems like Isbell is rushing to get to the point of the song without letting it breathe. There’s a lot going on, and yet it’s all over within three minutes – again, take the time to expand on the story rather than add a generic rock guitar solo.

To add another side-point, this has nothing to do with the grade for the song (or today’s discussion at all really), but for a song that has this mixed message of wanting to move on from Southeastern and Something More Than Free while simultaneously attempting to reach out to us, it just feels weird to have this as track nine. You would think something like this would kick off the album. Then again, we need the full album to really decide that.

That does bring another good point though, because maybe this song will work better in the context of the album than it will as an individual song. Overall, there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with this, but a lack of bad doesn’t mean there’s an abundance of good either outside of a somewhat satisfying conclusion. I think there could have been, but I think there’s also some wasted potential here. Maybe I have to wait for June.

Written by Jason Isbell (for all I know there could have been someone else though. My research didn’t really bring me any answers)


Editor’s note (3/25/17) – Carolyn of Goodnight Hestia  brought a different POV about this song in the comments, one that I like better. Therefore, my grade has changed to a strong 7.

3 thoughts on “Song Review – Jason Isbell’s “Hope The High Road”

  1. I have a slightly different take on this song. I think Isbell is challenging his listeners to look beyond their own problems. For what it’s worth, he includes himself in that challenge by mentioning things he used to believe were important in the first verse (“I used to think that this was my town”, “I used to want to be a real man”) and stating in retrospect how trivial those concerns were. While he acknowledges everyone has been through hard times, he doesn’t want people to wallow in the mire or engage in nasty rhetoric/behavior (hence “I hope the high road leads you home again/To a world you want to live in”). It’s a rallying cry, but one that also asks people take responsibility for their own actions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You know, that actually makes a ton of sense. It certainly is better than my interpretation. Actually, I like that message a lot better, especially since I can relate.

      I’d still say there are some one-liners throughout that are trying to give the song a double meaning (that unfortunately aren’t expanded upon). Also, I still don’t think the production really matches the tone, but those are just my concerns. I think I’ll edit the post after having re-listened to it again.

      See, this is why we write about this stuff – to be challenged and gain new insights from fellow music lovers. Great analysis, Carolyn.


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