Archive for the Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit Category

Top 20 of 2009: 18-16

Posted in Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Madison Violet, Sarah Borges, Top 20 of 2009 on December 18, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
#18 – No Fool for Trying by Madison Violet

Madison Violet was one of my favorite new discoveries of 2009. I was completely unaware of the duo from Canada when their No Fool for Trying album showed up on Reviewshine’s website (another one of my favorite things of 2009). It was one of the first albums I received and reviewed through Reviewshine, and I’m glad I took the time to give this one a listen… it’s easily one of my favorite folk records of the year. In fact, they were recently named Vocal Group of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

This album is full of lush harmonies and beautifully heartbreaking lyrics that create the perfect album to listen to during a relaxing evening at home. This is the third album for Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIssac as Madison Violet, and the first to draw so heavily from acoustic folk and bluegrass influences. It’s a direction I hope they continue to follow.

Madison Violet: No Fool for Trying (Buy Album)

#17 – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

I noticed this album back when it was first released in February, but I didn’t truly come to appreciate it until I went back to listen to it again before the Americana Honors and Awards. I’ve said here several times that Jason was my favorite member of The Drive-By Truckers during his time with the group. Of course, when he was with the Truckers, only two or three of his songs would make each album. Now that he’s on his own with two solo albums under his belt, Jason has really had the chance to grow and expand his sound.

This album finds Jason building on the southern rock sound that has been at the core of most of his previous work and adding a bit of country soul. The guiding hand of Lynyrd Skynyrd is still present, but there’s something extra here that elevates this album over his previous effort Sirens of the Ditch. Jason’s backing players, The 400 Unit provide a fine framework for his lyrics with keys present nearly throughout the album and drums mixed way up in the front. A promising second effort for this amazingly gifted songwriter.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: The Blue (Buy Album)

#16 – The Stars Are Out by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles

I was very open on this site about my process of growing to like this album. I started with excitement, moved on to trepidation, experienced some slight disappointment, and finally took a step back and learned to enjoy it. I had read some early reviews and and heard one overly polished track before the album was released. I let that color my expectations and taint my initial perception of the record. I shouldn’t have.

Once I took the time to regroup and listen to the album again with fresh ears, however, I was able to appreciate the album for what it is. Some of the country flavors from her previous work has been replaced in spots by a harder rock edge and a Joan Jett like energy on several tracks. That edge is present on several tracks including the Borges originals “Do it for Free” and “I’ll Show You How.” It also shows up on her cover of Any Trouble’s 1980’s Brit rock tune “Yesterday’s Love.”
Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Yesterday’s Love (Buy Album)

Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: Album of the Year

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Americana Music Awards 09, Buddy and Julie Miller, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Justin Townes Earle on September 4, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

So far we’ve covered the nominees for “Best New and Emerging Artist” and “Song of the Year” at this year’s Americana Music Awards & Honors. I gave you my picks and asked you to vote for yours. You’ve voted for all Texas artists so far with The Band of Heathens and The Flatlanders each taking their respective categories. We’ll find out who really wins when the awards get passed out September 17th in Nashville.

This week, it’s time to look at the “Album of the Year” nominees. I’ve already covered two of the nominees in great detail here at the site. I’ll start with those first.
I probably don’t have to tell you that my vote (if I had one) would go to Alejandro Escovedo for his 2008 release Real Animal. I reviewed the album back when it first came out. In fact, it was one of the very first albums I ever wrote about. I also chose it as my favorite album of 2008, and the accolades didn’t stop there. Music critics in Austin named it the best of the year, No Depression give it their top album nod, Stephen King called it one of the year’s best, and Alejandro essentially swept the Austin Music Awards. This is a great rock and roll record with a great deal of introspective song writing. It sounds great now, and I have a feeling it will hold up for quite a while as well.
Alejandro Escovedo: Sister Lost Soul (Buy Album)

Next, we move on to Chalk by Buddy and Julie Miller… an album that I wrote about back in February. As I said then… this isn’t exactly a full collaboration for Buddy and Julie. They only sing together on a few tracks, opting for solo vocals and guest appearances on the other tracks. Patty Griffin, Robert Plant, Larry Campbell, Regina and Ann McCrary, and Emmylou Harris all make appearances on the album. In most cases, the guests take the album to some very lofty places… but I still just love to hear Buddy & Julie Miller singing together. Here’s one where they do just that.

Buddy & Julie Miller: Gasoline & Matches (Buy Album)

Next up is former Drive By Truckers guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Jason Isbell with his new backing band The 400 Unit. Jason’s latest album is a self-titled project and once again reminds me why my favorite Drive By Truckers records are the ones on which he appeared. Although the 400 Unit helps him lay down some tight, southern rock inspired grooves, Jason’s strength has always been his songwriting. I’m not sure why Jason is the only nominee that I haven’t written about before. He certainly deserves the mention.

The album opening “Seven Mile Island” has a father reflecting on his own death even as his child is being born. “Cigarettes & Wine” sees a man destroyed because he can’t let himself be tied down. “Soldiers Get Strange” details the trials of a returning soldier struggling to readjust to civilian life. It’s not a happy album by any stretch, but (to steal a lyric from “Cigarettes and Wine”) it does a great job of detailing snapshots of a, “Life that ain’t grindstone to nose, but pedal to floor.”
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: Seven Mile Island (Buy Album)
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: Cigarettes & Wine (Buy Album)
The final nominee is Justin Townes Earle’s latest effort Midnight at the Movies. I know I’ve said this before… but with every new project he releases, Justin takes one more giant step out of the imposing shadows cast upon him by his famous father (Steve Earle) and namesake (Townes Van Zandt). He acknowledges those shadows briefly on the autobiographical “Mama’s Eyes,” but stands proudly in the sun himself with the album opening title track and stays bathed in its rays the whole way through. If he keeps releasing albums like this… he’ll stay there for a while.
Justin Townes Earle: Midnight at the Movies (Buy Album)
I’ve already told you who my vote would go to. I am firmly in the Alejandro Escovedo camp. As for who will win the award, I see this one as being pretty wide open as all four are solid choices. Buddy and Julie are always tough to beat (as Buddy’s crowded awards shelf will attest), and they have won this award before. My wife believes the fix is in for Earle to be the night’s big winner, but I don’t think he takes this one. Isbell’s songs are tremendous, but I don’t know if he has the name recognition to take out two members of Americana royalty and the heir apparent to another regal throne. This one should be interesting.
My vote (If I had one): Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo
My prediction: Written in Chalk by Buddy & Julie Miller