Mr. Isbell in L.A. awhile back. CREDIT.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Thurday, February 26
Next time your alt.country album needs an epic, weeping, piano-driven, slow-burn, blowout-ballad closing number, look this dude up. Late of the Drive-By Truckers (Father’s Day tear-jerker “Outfit,” off 2003’s Decoration Day, is a highlight for man and band both), Isbell is onto his second solo album, his Alabama twang and general air of Southern-rock insouciance intact, but with a major jones for, well, epic, weeping, piano-driven, slow-burn, blowout-ballad closing numbers. Tonight he unloads, like, 15 of ’em, each one patiently driving home its simple melody/progression/idea, and what’s initially plodding eventually becomes grudgingly sort of transcendent — “Chicago Promenade” is top-shelf Bruce Hornsby shit, “Mandolin Rain” for a venue (a town, really) not much inclined toward mandolins.
He’s an extraordinarily likable dude, whether he’s gushing about his time here in NYC (“We had good weather and got a lot of drinkin’ done”) or inviting up a horn section for a couple tunes I really wish weren’t as boring as they were. When he cranks up the tempo and the ferocity a bit, the results are great — “Good,” off the new Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, is damn near a power-pop barn-burner — but patience and virtue eventually gets him over: Our highlight tonight is one of his DBT tunes, “Danko/Manuel,” simple and insistent and quietly, slowly, subtly dramatic. In lieu of an encore there’s two bifurcated sets separated by “a ten-minute break to buy some liquor.”