It’s not unusual for a song to be written and then take a few years before its finally released into the world. Sometimes it seems like it’s just destined for a certain time. The Isaacs’ new song “The American Face,” which premieres today (7/1), sounds tailormade for these times even though it was written long before the pandemic and political upheaval that have dominated our culture in the last two years.
Written by Sonya Isaacs Yeary, her husband Jimmy Yeary and Tom Douglas, the poignant anthem is the title track and lead single for The Isaacs’ new album releasing August 13 on their own House of Isaacs label. “We actually wrote this song in 2014 and Tom demoed it,” Sonya tells Sounds Like Nashville. “The Isaacs didn’t have a project that it was suited for at the time, so we just kept the song down through the years. When we were thinking about songs to record on this new album, I remembered that song. I played it for my family, and they loved it.”
The family group—which features Sonya, brother Ben Isaacs, mother Lily Isaacs and sister Rebecca Isaacs Bowman—actually recorded the song in 2019. “This was before 2020, COVID, the election, all of the social unrest, all the stuff that divided us last year,” Sonya says. “We were already feeling some of this stuff back then but nothing like what we had this past year. It was just a blessing from God that we had it in the vault because we felt like when we recorded it, it was a great song, but in hindsight now I feel like it was God saying, ‘We need a message of unity. We need a message that individuality matters, and America is beautiful. The American Face is only beautiful because we can all respect each other and agree to disagree. That’s what makes the American Face.”
“To me, ‘The American Face’ is a song that talks about all the little things that make America so diverse and who we are today,” says Ben Isaacs, who co-produced the new album with Bryan Sutton. “There are people saying it’s miserable and some that are saying it’s the best they’ve ever seen, but it’s still our home and it’s still what we love as Americans. I’ve gotten to travel all over the world, and we are still the most blessed nation I’ve ever seen. It’s a song to just remind people that we are all in this together no matter what.”
Sonya says that was the goal in writing “The American Face.” It all started when Douglas, known for such hits as Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” and Collin Raye’s “Little Rock,” began talking about the phrase E Pluribus Unum, which by definition means out of many (states or colonies), one (nation). It’s used on the Great Seal of the U.S. and on several U.S. coins. “It’s the idea that the United States was founded upon, the principle of we’re all one, one for all and all for one. We’re all different, but we all create one America, so that’s kind of where this song was born out of and we wanted to include the beautiful things that shaped America. It was music. It was stories. It was the Trail of Tears. It was Martin Luther King Jr. It was the Scottish Irish coming to the United States, which is how my dad’s family came. It was Ellis Island, which is how my mom’s family came. It’s the high schoolers. It’s the kids riding Big Wheels. It’s the girl that works at the drive-thru window. There are things about our country that our culture has influenced, some good, some bad, but all of it is what makes America so amazing.”
“The American Face” is the first taste of the new album, which marks a creative departure for the award-winning family band. The Isaacs are members of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and they have long had devoted fans in both bluegrass and gospel music circles, but the upcoming album marks their first collection of all secular material. “We felt like ‘The American Face’ was a good title because this is the first non-gospel album that the Isaacs have ever released,” Sonya says. “It’s kind of Americana style so the title seemed to fit that new direction as well.”
The album is a blend of six original songs and six cover tunes including The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn,” Shania Twain’s “Forever & For Always,” Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration,” Extreme’s “More Than Words” and “The Water is Wide,” a classic folk song that closes the album. “Probably 80% of the venues we play are performing art centers,” says Ben. “We wanted to do a record to show people that we were more than just—for lack of better words—a gospel band. We love good harmony songs. We love good family songs. We don’t compromise who we are or what we stand for, but a good song is a good song no matter what it is.”
Ben admits the most challenging cover was “You’re the Inspiration.” “That was the most complicated song for us because of all the way the chord structure is,” he says. “You can sing it really easy when you hear the keyboards and you hear Chicago’s version, but it’s hard when you have to create those chords and we did it a cappella. We literally worked on it for a few days at different times and then we got into the studio and spent all day recording that song. We literally would have to do it a section at a time, but we can do it now and it’s so fun.”
The remaining six songs on the album are originals written by Sonya, Rebecca Isaacs Bowman, Connie Harrington, Tim Nichols, Steven Jones and Jimmy Yeary, who has penned such hits as “I Drive Your Truck,” which won Song of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards. “Sonya and Becky have written some amazing songs on this record,” Ben says proudly of his sisters.
“I’m just excited for people to hear this record,” he continues. “If you are familiar with the Isaacs, this is not your typical Isaacs record. This is a record that has stretched us a little bit beyond where we’ve been in the past musically, vocally and even stylistically. We want to bring people into our kind of music, and we figured the best way to do that was familiarity so that’s why we did the six covers.”
Lest any of their gospel fans are concerned that The Isaacs are leaving the flock, they aren’t. “We definitely want our gospel fans to know that this is not like the Isaacs have left gospel music,” Sonya says. “It’s something that we felt led in our hearts to do it, and the Isaacs have always included secular songs on our records. We did ‘The Living Years,’ ‘The Three Bells’ and ‘I’m Going To Love You Through It.’ The Big Sky record was very heavily leaning towards life and love and those types of songs, but this is the only one we’ve done that didn’t have an actual gospel song on it. So it’s nothing different than we’ve always done, it’s just an album full of them.”
In addition to exposing the diversity the talented ensemble is capable of, the Isaacs are hoping the record will be successful as it will help support The Bridge Ministry, a Nashville-based charity created to help feed and clothe children, the homeless and the working poor. The Isaacs have volunteered with the ministry over the years joining founder Candy Christmas, her husband Kent and others in feeding the homeless. “We’ve really connected with Kent and Candy Christmas and we’ve been visiting The Bridge for years now,” Sonya says. “They’ve been doing it for 17 years, I think, feeding the homeless, the hungry and the less fortunate of Nashville. They feed thousands of children every week. Whether it’s rain or shine, sleet or hail, tornado winds, 100 degree weather, it does not matter, they are faithfully under that bridge every single Tuesday serving homeless people. And they are not just giving them a meal, they are giving them bags of supplies to get them through the week. It is unbelievable. They give blankets in the winter time. They give away bicycles. It’s amazing how God has used them to help people in Nashville.”
“When you see the heart and the love that Candy carries for these people and you realize that there is a major need, you want to help,” adds Ben. “Some of those people don’t know why they are in those situations, but they’ve just dealt with it. It’s really something to be able to minister to them, to love on them and to know that we can feed them.”
In addition to supporting The Bridge in Nashville, the Isaacs plan to volunteer their time in the cities they visit on tour. “Our goal with this whole song is not just helping the Bridge in Nashville, but in every major city to try to find a needy spot,” he says. “Our goal is to go into towns and cities where the Bridge can meet up with us and just help people and feed them.”
The Isaacs are looking forward to connecting with others in each city they visit to meet the needs of those that are struggling. The Bridge Ministry is helping with the logistics in each city. “As we’re touring The American Face album and as we’re visiting cities, our goal is to start feeding hungry people so we’re just going to come in the cities that we’re singing in and we’re going to serve the homeless people,” Sonya says. “And we’re going to sing to them because it’s not just food that they need, it’s also encouragement and it’s hope. God gave us a talent and he wants us to use it to encourage everyone, not just people that can afford to buy a ticket, so we feel a calling to minister to them and encourage them with the talents that God has given us and also to feed them, hopefully feeding their spirit and their bodies. That’s our goal and The Bridge Ministry is a very key part of helping us coordinate and do this.”