Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit [Lightning Rod, 2009] Dud
  • Here We Rest [Lightning Rod, 2011] **
  • The Nashville Sound [Southeastern/Thirty Tigers, 2017] A
  • Georgia Blue [Southeastern, 2021] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit [Lightning Rod, 2009] Dud

Here We Rest [Lightning Rod, 2011]
This guy's got talent--some band with their shit together should show him the ropes ("Codeine," "Stopping By") **

The Nashville Sound [Southeastern/Thirty Tigers, 2017]
The Americana pigeonhole sets up rootsy expectations Isbell has too keen a mind for. And though he obviously isn't the only Nashville guy ever to placate his demons with Jack and coke or the only folkie ever beset by night thoughts, neither "country" or "singer-songwriter" suits him either--he's too intellectual for one, too downhome for the other. So 15 years after the Drive-Bys brought in a tenor who could write, 10 years after he quit them while his first wife stayed on, five years after he got sober, and two years after there was a baby on the way, here are some of the words his tenor lets fly. Over the tolling guitars of "White Man's World": "There's no such thing as someone else's war / Your creature comforts aren't the only things worth fighting for." Over the female counterpoint of "If We Were Vampires": "Maybe we'll get 40 years together / But one day I'll be gone, one day you'll be gone." Over the "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" boom of "Anxiety": "Anxiety / How do you always get the best of me? / I'm out here living in a fantasy / I can't enjoy a goddamn thing." A

Georgia Blue [Southeastern, 2021]
First let's specify that this guest-chocked collection of Georgia covers isn't what's being called a "charity album." As a title that takes the "S" out of "blues" indicates, it's a voting rights album--one Isbell conceived while Biden was saving democracy as best he could by winning Georgia, with proceeds divided among Black Voters Matter, Stacey Abrams's Fair Fight outfit, and Georgia STAND-UP (Strategic Alliance for New Directions and Unified Policies). So just by way of saying thanks you have every reason to buy it unheard, as I did. This doesn't means I have to like Cat Power as per the gifted Amanda Shires any more than I used to as per the annoying Chan Marshall. Nor need I feign conversion to the Indigo Girls. Nonetheless, there are musical strokes aplenty here. My favorite is Brittney Spencer's feminist "makes all that money to steal from another man" revision of "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." But I also dig the way 400 Unit stalwart Sadler Vaden spruces up his old mates Drivin' and Cryin' and Adia Victoria embellishes Precious Bryant's Piedmont blues "The Truth" and Isbell himself cherishes the earnest conjugal heartsong Otis Redding and Jerry Butler cooked up for him under the title "I've Been Loving You Too Long." And then there's "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," which hasn't lost a step in what is now half a century. A-