Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's 'Live From Alabama' - Album Review - OurVinyl
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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s ‘Live From Alabama’ – Album Review

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Released November 20, 2012 on Lightning Rod Records/Thirty Tigers (Nashville), Live from Alabama is the first full-length live album from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (keyboardist Derry deBorja, bassist Jimbo Hart and drummer Chad Gamble).  This album follows the highly acclaimed Here We Rest, which was released during the spring of 2011 and featured the song of the year winner at the 2012 Americana Awards for “Alabama Pines”. Here We Rest also cracked the top 100 of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart for 2011. Seizing upon the momentum of Here We Rest, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit deliver thirteen motive, soulful cuts of Americana recorded during a series of sold out shows at the WorkPlay Theater in Birmingham, AL and Crossroads in Huntsville, AL.

jason isbell and the 400 unit live from alabamaLive From Alabama features almost entirely originals from Isbell himself, both now and during his days with the Drive By Truckers, along with a raw and hard driving rendition of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”. It’s clear that this album was recorded over a stretch of shows that held the comfort of home for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, as the sound echoes with an easy calm.

Leading off the album is “Tour of Duty” a rousing song, telling of the difficulties of service and the self-conflicting feel of futility during war. “Tour of Duty” was the last track on Here We Rest, but is a great choice here to start here, as it the beat bounces playfully through serious lyrical material.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Alabama Pines

A major highlight of the first few tracks is “Danko/Manuel”, a song written in an attempt to understand the feelings of loss felt by friend and bandmate Levon Helm after the passing of Rick Danko and Richard Manuel.  Both Rick Danko and Richard Manuel made a huge contribution and impression on the musical landscape, one that clearly resonates with Jason Isbell. References to the Band as a whole or its members, whether it be covers or songs written about them are always welcomed in a live setting. This couldn’t be more true with “Danko/Manuel”.

Let the night air cool you off.
Tilt your head back and try to cough.
Don’t say nothing ’bout the things you never saw.
Let the night air cool you off.

I ain’t living like I should.
A little rest might do me good.
Got to sinking in the place where I once stood.
Now I ain’t living like I should.

Can you hear that singing? Sounds like gold.
Maybe I can only hear it in my head.
Fifteen years ago we owned that road
now it’s rolling over us instead.

Richard Manuel is dead.

God forbid you call their bluff.
Like the nightmares ain’t enough.
Remember when we used to think that we were tough?
God forbid you call their bluff.

First they make you out to be
the only pirate on the sea.
Then they say Danko would have sounded just like me.
“Is that the man you want to be?”

Can you hear that song? It sounds like gold.
Maybe I could make it bigger overseas.
Fifteen years ago we owned this road
now it only gives us somewhere else to leave.

Something else you can’t believe.

Can you hear that singing? Sounds like gold.
Maybe I can hear poor Richard from the grave
singin’ where to reap and when to sow
when you’ve found another home you have to leave.

Something else you can’t believe.

jason isbell and the 400 unit live from alabamaTwo tracks later “Alabama Pines” is played much to the delight of the audible crowd. Although not very old, “Alabama Pines” will be covered by aspiring musicians for a long time to come (just check Youtube if you have doubts). Even if you’ve never driven interstates 65 or 20 across some part of Alabama, “Alabama Pines” will take you and your senses there quickly. It’s a song of home and a song that truly is that good.

“Cigarettes and Wine”, “Dress Blues” and the Neil Young anthem “Like a Hurricane” highlight the tail-end of the album. Isbell interjects towards the end of the album in between songs to thank the audience. “Like a Hurricane” is played with the same tempo Neil Young would perform it, but Isbell’s vocals give it a life of its’ own here.

Live From Alabama captures the songwriting prowess of Isbell, while also providing a glimpse into the band’s cohesion and ease in front of an audience. Whether it is Birmingham or Bellingham, it’s obvious that Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit are comfortable, focused and driven to deliver strong performances based on motive, insightful song writing and experienced musicianship.

If you haven’t heard Jason Isbell and 400 Unit live yet, use Live From Alabama as the thing that drives you to catch them next time they come through your city. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is that rare and powerful mixture of rock n’ roll, country and Americana based on songwriting that invokes visceral imagery, both visual and sensory.

Here We Rest was one of the best albums of 2011 and Live From Alabama is one of the best live albums of 2012.

Written by Allen Bryne

OurVinyl | Contributor