Because Songs Matter

JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT – JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT

When Jason originally left the Trucker’s I imagined him releasing albums full of awesome tracks like, “Never Gonna Change”, “Decoration Day” and ballads as moving as “Goddamn Lonely Love”. As time moved on and Sirens of the Ditch was released and I stared to hear the previews of Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, I realized that wasn’t gonna be the case. The longer I thought about that, the more it became clear that my original vision of what I thought a solo-Isbell was gonna be was terribly misguided. For one, if he was just gonna continue to write the kind of music he was writing with the Trucker’s, then why not just stay with DBT? For two, it would be utterly impossible to write albums full of tracks of that quality. A single album full of tracks the quality of “Never Gonna Change” would easily go down as one of the greatest albums in the history of rock and roll. So, when I got the band’s second self-titled album I decided to listen to it on its own merits, not on the merits of Jason’s past.

One of the first things I noticed when listening to this album was that, much like his second time through Tampa, his second solo album seems to have much more self-confidence that its predecessor. It seems he no longer needs to lean on his DBT back catalog and he is willing to sonically separate himself from the shadow he had already created. This new sound relies heavily on that Muscle Shoals sound that helped put Alabama on the musical map. Mixing equal parts soul, blues, rock and country, this album proves to be Jason’s most mature album to date.

Unlike Sirens of the Ditch, this album was an entire band experience. Jason wrote the songs, but the entire band; Browan Lollar (guitar), Derry deBorja (keyboards) and Jimbo Hart (bass), wrote and recorded the music as well as produced it alongside Centromatic’s drummer Matt Pence, who also played drums on the album.

The only question left really is whether or not people who like will Jason like this. I think the answer really depends on whether your buying this album to hear ‘Jason Isbell, the artist’, or if you’re buying it to hear the newest album from ‘Jason Isbell, the former guitarist of the Drive-By Truckers’. If you’re buying it to hear more DBT, you’re gonna be disappointed. However, if you buy this album willing to hear Jason in his own skin, then what you’ll find is a fantastic album full of songs as layered and deep as his past efforts with a slightly little different sound. I think it’s Essential Listening. What do you think?

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Streetlights     

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Sunstroke     

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - No Choice In The Matter     

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Official Site, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit on myspace, Buy Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit

20 Comments

  1. nathan nathan
    February 24, 2009    

    i like what i hear. i liked your review too. i’ve read a couple less favorable ones, and those writers couldn’t get away from DBT comparisons.

  2. John John
    February 24, 2009    

    Hey, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I love it. You’ve introduced me to a lot of new stuff and celebrated stuff I’ve already loved! keep up the great work. Also, I’m going to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Watt this weekend. I’m also really stoked to see Deer Tick open for them.

  3. John John
    February 24, 2009    

    *Unit, not Watt…

  4. February 24, 2009    

    those writers couldn’t get away from DBT comparisons.

    I think that’s gonna chase him for his entire career. It would be quite warranted if he stayed within the same sonic framework but his so is evolving so much I think it’s time to just forget he was part of DBT….until, that is, he comes to town…then they bastards got some songs that need to be played.

  5. February 24, 2009    

    Hey, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I love it

    Glad to have you as a reader John. Hopefully you’ll leave some more comments in the future.

    Don’t fret to 400 Watt screw-up….I get it confused all the time too because of the 40 Watt Club in Athens that DBT always plays.

  6. Adam Fenwick Adam Fenwick
    February 24, 2009    

    On first listen, I wasn’t all that impressed with this record. The two tracks I had heard before I got the record, “Good” and “Seven-Mile Island” I thought were pretty good. However, once I got the record I found it was very, very mellow. Not that that’s a bad thing, there are really good songs on this record (Sunstroke, Streetlights, The Last Song I Will Write stick out) but I was really hoping for one or two more rockish sounding songs. In the grand scheme of things I don’t foresee this being one of my favorites of the year but, as most records do, I suspect this one will grow on me. We’ll see what I think in a month or two. Maybe my opinion will have changed by then.

  7. February 24, 2009    

    Lookin forward to hearing Jason’s new effort – songs like Dress Blues, and Brand New Kind Of Actress showed an ability to craft songs. Decent songs (which is rare in country). The type that on first listen feel familiar as if those phrases and melodies had to have already existed – they have a sort of simplistic sense to them. Country music is like playing drums or the bass, easy to do but hard to do well. Like Chris Knight or a more country David Ford Jason’s efforts always seemed to have that….I’ll be interested to see how i feel about the album after the review

  8. February 24, 2009    

    When Jason left DBT, he did to become a solo artist. That was also the time I only saw him as Jason isbell, the solo artist. “Sirens” wasn’t for me THAT album, but maybe the reason for that because the album was for 1,5 year ready, lyin somewhere in a can and always when DBT had thoughts to record a new album, New West delayed it again. Therefore this second selftitled album, I see it as his first
    solo (band) album he had in mind to make. For me, it’s a great record, not a superb one. The slower songs are for me his stronger ones, so therefore Iam not disappointed that there are less rockier songs. But…It’s offcourse essential listening.

  9. February 24, 2009    

    Is it really that the DBT thing haunts him or is it the sheer quality of his songs from that time?

    The thing about a band with multiple singer/songwriters is that every song has to fight like hell for a spot on the album, even when the albums are over long like “Brighter..”. This makes the songs that do show up the cream of a particular writers crop.

    I view his time with the Truckers as his first album, and damn if it wasn’t a great one. So he had years to crank that stuff out. Now he has to get moving. Sirens was a misstep I think but so far I like what I hear from the new one.

  10. February 24, 2009    

    Also I am quitting my band and starting one called “400 Watt”

  11. February 25, 2009    

    Really enjoying this album, a definite step up from Sirens of the Ditch in the quality of the writing, a nice layering of styles, the more soulful sound works, liking the brass on No Choice In This Matter, the other stand out tracks for me are, Cigarettes & Wine, The Blue and However Long (which wouldn’t have been out of place on Brighter Than..

  12. February 25, 2009    

    Interesting theory about his DBT catalog counting as his first album….I am about to assemble them all on my ipod as a playlist.

    Sirens did feel disjointed at times but it had some damned fine songs on it.

    My only fear is that the “rocking” Jason is gone forever.

  13. Adam Fenwick Adam Fenwick
    February 25, 2009    

    I agree on that very last sentence from Autopsy, I like his slower stuff just fine, but I really think he need a little bit of rock on his records. Doesn’t have to be a ton, but more then we are currently seeing.

  14. Nick Nick
    February 25, 2009    

    I really wanted to like this record but I can’t get into it. I’m going to try and listen to it again and maybe it’ll change.

  15. Shwa Shwa
    February 25, 2009    

    It’s always tough to separate new efforts from the previous, especially if you have that music fresh in your mind. I love the 400 Unit album, and the three songs that started as the center for me are “Sunstroke”, “Coda” and “However Long”. Everything radiated out from there, and “Coda” really reminds me of Derek & The Dominoes for some reason. There’s more of a coherent feel with the band setting, but also because Isbell wasn’t recording it piecemeal over a few years.

    Who’s “masterpiece” is he referring to in “Sunstroke”?

  16. Shwa Shwa
    February 25, 2009    

    It’s always tough to separate new efforts from the previous, especially if you have that music fresh in your mind. I love the 400 Unit album, and the three songs that started as the center for me are “Sunstroke”, “Coda” and “However Long”. Everything radiated out from there, and “Coda” really reminds me of Derek & The Dominoes for some reason. There’s more of a coherent feel with the band setting, but also because Isbell wasn’t recording it piecemeal over a few years.

    Whose “masterpiece” is he referring to in “Sunstroke”?

  17. February 25, 2009    

    I dunno. Parts of that song feel as though it’s about the DBT split and perhaps Shonna as well.

    ergo:

    “answer these questions for everyone so maybe they’ll stop asking me”

  18. Noah Noah
    February 26, 2009    

    AIV, I really like the tracks you posted. In fact, I probably wouldn’t buy this if it sounded like Sirens, and now I will. That’s not really meant as a knock on Sirens. It’s just that, for me, that record felt like a more commercial version of DBT. Now it seems more like it was leading someplace, and that’s kind of exciting.

    I agree that he has to keep bring the rock at his live shows. I’ve seen him with The Unit twice now, and the harder they rock the better they are.

  19. TheOtherBrit TheOtherBrit
    March 2, 2009    

    You have to hear it live to really feel this album. I had mixed feelings about it originally (more Outfit and Hurricanes, please) but when I saw it live they changed my mind. I think this album is to finally start distancing himself from the DBT comparisons.

    And they still rock out on the old stuff, and Browan’s killer cover of Psycho Killer.

  20. Rob Rob
    March 3, 2009    

    I am a huge fan of DBT and have followed Jason’s career also. There were a few gems on Sirens, but it wasn’t that great. Of course I was comparing it to his songs with DBT. This new record blows away Sirens. I’ve played it several times all the way through and love just about every song on it. No Choice in the Matter is an amazing tune. Coda does have a little Derek and the Dominos feel. But that’s never a bad thing. I just hope they play within a couple hours of my town so I can witness the live rocking!

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