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Music to Atone To
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“Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole.” Say what? As far-fetched as being swallowed up by a geographic location may sound, Grammy-winning Americana collective Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit brilliantly capture just that.  On “Cumberland Gap,” a highlight from their 2017 album, The Nashville Sound, Isbell highlights the inability to escape the hardship and tough sledding of one geographic location. The Cumberland Gap, and similar places that can inhibit residents, is what Isbell seeks to atone for.

Throughout the verses, Jason Isbell does a fantastic job of illustrating the vicious cycle that a resident of Cumberland Gap may experience, specifically a coal town. The Cumberland Gap could be any number of places which are nearly impossible to leave or advance in.  On the first verse, the opening lyrics set the tone. A son, born into potential hell, has fallen victim to the misfortune.  “There’s an answer here, if I look hard enough,” Isbell sings, continuing, “There’s a reason why I always reach for the harder stuff.”  In a place where there’s nothing, alcohol and drugs become a dangerous coping mechanism.

Beyond the first verse, Isbell continues to paint the miserable tale. On the second verse, he references a lack of jobs and recreation – “And there’s nothing here but churches, bars, and grocery stores.”  On the third verse, he considers relocating, but family ties ultimately eliminate that possibility.

“I thought about moving away
But what would mama say?
I’m all that she has left and I’m with her every day.” 

What should be the takeaway from “Cumberland Gap”? Don’t allow yourself to be cattycornered or boxed into a vicious cycle – break the cycle! Find a way to advance beyond the expected, and ultimately, don’t allow The Cumberland Gap, and similar places to dictate your life. 

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About The Curator - Brent Faulkner

Brent Faulkner - Music to Curator

Slightly eccentric with interests that seem to know no ends, restless ‘Renaissance Man’ is the best way to characterize Brent Faulkner, a native of Kentucky.  A certified music educator, multi-instrumentalist, and composer known for his incredibly sharp ear, he lives and breathes music of a variety of styles.  In addition to passion for educating, performing, and writing music, he’s equally passionate blogging and writing about it, managing his own site, The Musical Hype ( When he’s not intensely analyzing music, you can find him reading or watching a movie, reality television or some sporting event.