Hitting The Big Time
Wow. Packing a choreographed light show and blazing multi-colored tattoo logo sign, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit along with his partner in crime Amanda Shires brought a double barreled performance to Akron’s Goodyear Theatre Wednesday evening. This wasn’t some shit hole bar or going onstage after midnight as previous Isbell shows had been staged in the past. Isbell has paid his dues multiple times over and this night showed how the hard work and perseverance paid dividends.
If the topic of today’s top songwriters is broached, Jason Isbell is one name that falls off the lips from the usual suspects in the music business. The former Drive-By Truckers guitar player battled drug and alcohol addiction by escaping the darkness and finding the light with the help of his future wife, songwriter and fiddle player Amanda Shires. Today, they are considered Nashville’s royal couple and have a mantle full of award hardware. This writer bestowed his 2009 and 2013 Album of the Year Award to Jason Isbell for his self-titled and Southeastern record releases. Along with stellar recordings Here We Rest (2011) and Something More Than Free (2015), Isbell’s body of work continues to set the bar higher every time he steps into a recording studio.
Once again produced by Dave Cobb, the June release of The Nashville Sound is no exception, addressing topics of cultural privilege, nostalgia, love, mortality and hope with thoughtful, heartfelt and brutally honest songwriting. Cobb cut the ten tracks live with no demos or rehearsals for a very brilliantly raw performance mix inside the historic RCA Studios in Music City. Backed by his band of brothers The 400 Unit, the Green Hill, Alabama native just a country mile from Muscle Shoals sets the tone leading off the evening with “Anxiety” before back-to-back singles “Hope The High Road” and “24 Frames”. With Sadler Vaden (guitar), Jimbo Hart (bass), Derry DeBorja (keyboards), Chad Gamble (drums) and Shires backing him, the music continued to flow as they ripped off “Something More Than Free”, “If It Takes A Lifetime”, “White Man’s World”, and beautiful backing on accordion from DeBorja for “Codeine”. With the Isbell songbook now at five albums, the audience can no longer expect to hear all their favorites. “Last of My Kind”, “The Life You Chose”, “Something To Love”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Speed Trap Town” closed out the next portion of the show. Dipping into Southeastern, “Flying Over Water” and “Stockholm” led up to the showstopper “Cover Me Up”. A real treat tossed in was hearing the DBT penned “Declaration Day” before “Super 8” ended the set. For an encore, Isbell offered up another single from the new album “Vampires” before rocking it out with another DBT tune “Never Gonna Change”.
Amanda Shires hasn’t always been on tour with her husband, so it was extra special to see this singer/songwriter not only perform with Isbell, but to have her own spotlight as the opening act. Touring behind her latest release My Piece of Land, she slayed the audience with “My Love – The Storm”, ‘You Are My Home”, “The Way It Dimmed”, ‘Pale Fire”, and the gorgeous ballad “Harmless”. Shires has a way to draw you closer to the flame with her storytelling and tonight was no exception. A tale about moving to Nashville, living with her new boyfriend for three days, and bats was the prequel to “Wasted and Rollin” as Isbell came onstage to join her. “Devistate” and “Look Like A Bird” from Down Fell The Doves also made seeing her at The Basement in Nashville a very long time ago. So you know what that means …. I’m due for a road trip.