Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Sirens Of the Ditch(2007) s/t (2009)

Posted: August 11, 2010 in Uncategorized
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As mentioned in the Drive By Truckers post a short while ago, former Trucker Jason Isbell left that band in the Spring of 2007 to give full attention to his solo project.  It was during this time that Isbell returned to his hometown of Muscle Shoals to begin recording tracks with renowned  session artist Spooner Oldham (who would later go on to join Jason’s former band). These songs were released in July 2007 as Isbell’s first solo album, Sirens Of The Ditch, by the New West label. Recorded at the legendary FAME studio which was once graced by the voices of soul legends Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Clarence Carter, Sirens Of The Ditch finally gave listeners a chance to hear Jason Isbell transcend the confines of the “alt country” genre. The history and legacy of the Muscle Shoals environment plays a distinct role in not only the album’s sound, but also its ambiance. The production is rich and the vocals are borderline soulful. The album stays rather consistent throughout the tracks, with Isbell’s songwriting talent shining through the most on a couple exceptional tracks;  Dress Blues, which is a heartbreaking ballad about a fallen soldier from Isbell’s hometown and the upbeat piano driven number, Chicago Promenade, an ode to the musician’s late grandfather. The most accurate tag that can be applied to this album is that it is one of longevity. It can be listened to from front to back, on repeat occasions, and for a long time to come.

surprisingly, Isbell outdid himself on his sophomore release, 2009’s Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit.  Also released by New West and recorded at FAME, the album marked the debut of Jason Isbell’s new permanent band, The 400 Unit. Not far into the first track, Seven Mile Island,  it is apparent that this was a definitive full band effort and the production certainly accommodates that fact.

The songs on The 400 Unit present a much more dynamic  package than those its predecessor. The southern blues influenced lead track seamlessly yields to the soulful second track, Sunstroke. Isbell’s songwriting abilities allow for the pace to pick up considerably with the third track, the Faces style rocker, Good.  From there, the album alternates perfectly from the slower tempo songs that bring Isbell’s obviously natural soul side to the surface (Cigarettes and Wine, No  Choice In The Matter, Last Song I Write) to the full band rockers that showcase the range of superb instrumentalization the album has to offer (However Long, Soldiers Get Strange).  Again, Isbell (this time with his 400 Unit) wrote an album that is over before you know it. And then you want to listen to it again and again. Jason Isbell is a true talent; a musician who has the ability to write an album in which each song is as memorable as the one before it.

So check out this video of Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit performing Cigarettes and Wine at the Shoals Theatre in Muscle Shoals and then take a listen to his albums. Oh, and I forgot to mention this guy has become my favorite active songwriter and musician. So you better enjoy it!

Sirens Of The Ditch (2007)

The 400 Unit (2009)

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