Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit (Album of the same name)
www.jasonisbell.comI’ve had this album kicking around a few weeks now, and it just keeps finding its way back on to the player. It was actually released in 2009, so I’m behind the times on this one, but they’re playing in Kilkenny next weekend and if I could be there I would.
Jason Isbell was in the Drive-by Truckers for some years, and you can hear that in the sound of this new band; I guess if you can imagine the DBT’s heading in the direction of Wilco, you’d be in the right ball park for the sound the 400 Unit make. He is most definitely the leader of this band and the sole songwriter, too; he’s spent some years learning the craft, though, and his songs reach into the darker parts of the psyche with a poet’s insight.
Curiously, there’s no liner notes for who played what here, other than to say they got Matt Pence to play the drums as well as co-produce. And what drumming he provides – beefy when needed but delicately inventive at times, too. He does way more than just thump ’em, that’s for sure.
So you’ve got to say that Matt Pence, for the purposes of the recording , is a fifth member of a band that sound totally wonderful, the epitome of how good a modern rock band can be, capable of producing huge soundscapes of great variety – definitely, think Wilco at this point. They can also rein the whole thing in and give a lyric a laid-back gentle environment in which to flourish, as they do with The Blue. There’s a distinctive soul tinge as well; Jason Isbell’s singing has that quality about it and on No Choice In The Matter they really go for it with some soul horns which sound a dead ringer for some late 60’s soul that I can’t quite pin down. Wilson Pickett, maybe? Someone of that style, anyway.
The standout track in some ways is Cigarettes and Wine, a tale of a relationship founded in a bar – mutually convenient but going nowhere even if the girl in the story thinks she’d like it to – and if George Jones was recording today he might well sound like this. The big world-weary chorus is irresistible if you have the least taste for that side of country music.
Having said that, it’s the rock aspect of this band that has me totally hooked: the rich, eloquent and sometimes thunderous guitar sounds, the keyboards weaving in and out, and the quite brilliant drumming. It all puts me in mind of a line used in Porridge on BBC tv years ago; In Porridge, it was sarcastic, but I mean this as a compliment: ‘mean, moody, magnificent’.