Jason Isbell – Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit Jason Isbell – Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Jason Isbell - Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Jason Isbell - Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

North Alabama’s Jason Isbell said that growing up in his town, that he was one of only two kids named Jason. That was said in December of 2006 during a show at the Variety Playhouse. Within three months of that show rumors of Jason’s divorce from the Drive by Truckers, and their bassist Shonna Tucker, were circulating the internet. In April of 2007 the split from DBT was made public. Three more months passed and in July of 2007 Isbell released his debut album “Sirens Of The Ditch”. The album, which featured work from over a 4 year period, was emotionally charged, but erratic at times.
2009 brings Jason’s sophomore effort, named for his band, “Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit” gives us a much more consistent effort that feels like a complete album rather than a compilation of tracks. I had the privilege of seeing Jason do a couple songs, off of this album, during an acoustic set in November at Café Du Nord in San Francisco. One of the songs played that night was “Cigarettes and Wine”, from the middle of this album. The song epitomizes what Jason Isbell is at his best, a passionate storyteller with a distinct talent for illustrating complex emotions. It’s the simple matter of fact way he presents the story, that allows you to connect you with the characters.
The consistency of the new album also comes with a new set of challenges. A large part of the appeal of Jason’s work with DBT was derived from the juxtaposition of his tracks against Patterson Hood’s, and Mike Cooley’s aggressive, raw, styles. “Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit” stays a little too close to a center that doesn’t seem to exist. When the album picks up the pace it feels a bit forced, although “Soldiers Get Strange” is a good example of a faster song that still sounds like vintage Isbell.

The Point: “Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit” is a solid work and shows progress from “Sirens Of The Ditch”. While I find myself craving some less polished material to play against the smooth southern sound of Isbell, its absence does not greatly detract from the album. This effort seems to be most effective on the slower songs like, “Cigarettes and Wine”, “Sunstroke”, and “Streetlights”, which go a long way to establishing a sound that is Isbell. “Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit” is an album that is deep with layered stories that work well on their own and in the tapestry of the album.

Jason Isbell - Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, reviewed by Big Ben on 2009-02-11T22:59:50-08:00 rating 3.7 out of 5

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