I’m at the front end of a migraine–everything feels really intense and loud and trippy, but there’s no pain–so take everything I’m about to say with the grain of salt reserved for someone who is like “wow, man, everything is clear,” but I was listening to the radio this morning and I decided that there’s something really interesting about Jason Isbell’s “Alabama Pines.” I was trying to decide if it has a rhyme scheme and I finally decided, “no,” but there is something going on with sound in this song that’s a lot more thoughtful than you get in most songs.
It seems to me there are three crucial sounds to this song–“eye” “ooo” and “aye”–that repeat in every stanza–and then another set of sounds we’ll get to in a second.
So, I’m not going to bore you with doing the whole song, but let’s just take the first verse:
I moved into this room, if you could call it that, a week ago.
I never do what I‘m supposed to do.
I hardly even know my name anymore.
When no one calls it out, it kinda vanishes away.
I can’t get to sleep at night. The parking lot’s so loud and bright.
The a/c hasn’t worked in twenty years.
Probably never made a single person cold,
but I can’t say the same for me. I‘ve done it many times.
See how those sounds repeat? I feel like it tricks your ear into believing there’s a rhyme scheme, but it’s just these sounds coming round and round again.
But that’s not the most brilliant and beautiful part. It’s how you know where the emotional heart of the song is not just because of the words–which just read like we’ve finally gotten to the core of the matter–“I needed that damn woman like a dream needs gasoline”–but because it sounds so different than the rest of the song–so full of “eee”s: “needed,” “dream,” “needs,” “gasoline.”
But the “eee”s make an interesting backbone of the song–“week,” “sleep,” “weekend,” “speed,” “Springs,” “needed,” “dream,” “needs,” “gasoline,” “beauty,” and “liberty.” A lot of the “eee” words are things the singer identifies as necessary, but often only recognized as such by him.
It’s just incredibly well-done wordplay. And I like it.