Album Review of Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit’s Live in Alabama

Album Review by the Randy Bee

I was not lucky enough to see Jason Isbell while he was a member of Drive By Truckers but have seen him perform solo and with his band the 400 Unit, whose name is taken from a Alabama colloquialism used to describe the hospital psych ward.  Though I am definitely a ‘Truckers fan and think Patterson Hood and company make great music, I was always partial to Isbell’s vocals and guitar playing and thought he was the most talented member of the band. Since leaving the ‘Truckers, Isbell has released five albums with the 400 Unit, the most recent being Live From Alabama. released just last month.

Live From Alabama’s tracks are taken  from shows performed in Birmingham and Hunstville in front of an extremely appreciative and partisan crowd, the album is an excellent aural document that showcases some of the best examples of Isbell’s  emotional and evocative songwriting. On the album his great band features  Jimbo Hart on Bass, Chad Gamble on Drums, and Derry DeBorja on keys. It is a wonderfully recorded work and gives the listener a taste of why Isbell’s audiences love him and why he loves them right back.

Like many writers whose work invokes the pain and sadness of broken hearts and broken lives, he finds himself most at home onstage in front of those folks who find resonance in the lonely stories he tells. Like most great concerts it is the one place we all feel “part of” and ultimately less alone.

Highlights for me on this record include “Alabama Pines,” which was the Americana Music Association’s song of the year.

With lyrics like:

“Well I moved into this room if you could call it that a week ago,I never know what I’m supposed to do… the AC hasn’t worked  in 20 years, probably never made anybody cold, can’t say the same for me I’ve done it many times, somebody take me home through those Alabama pines…”

it paints a perfect picture of a man alone far away from home and grieving his past mistakes.

Two of his best songs which appeared on the ‘Trucker’s 2004 release Dirty South ,”Danko/Manuel” which is given an over 8 minute rousing performance and the heartbreaking “Goddamn Lonely Love” make this album a must listen. A cover of a Candi Staton’s “Heart On A String” makes great use of a horn section that appears on several  tracks. I also need to make mention of the song Isbell wrote for his dad called “Outfit” which is one of the band’s most requested. In fact, the tour derives it’s name, “Stop Fuckin’Around and Play Outfit,” from an impassioned fan’s repeated shouts to play the song.

The album ends with a great cover of the Neil Young song “Like A Hurricane” which is played balls to the wall and sends everyone home happy.”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play World Cafe Live on Monday December 10th as part of their current . TSI will be there, we hope you are too!