Jason Isbell’s Ryman residency wins RS plaudits

Jason Isbell has begun six nights of performances in Nashville this week for this year’s residency (which have been happening since 2014) and RS Country has been writing about them in glowing terms. They wrote of the first night: “On Monday, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit performed like a renewed band, kicking off this year’s six-show Ryman takeover with a set that sounded studied, but no less soulful. The group’s arrangements have become more deliberate, with each dynamic shift emphasized by a light show that doubled down on the music’s unique punch. “If We Were Vampires” found the bandmates bathed in red, while a wash of indigo lights drove home the protest blues of “White Man’s World.” Playing beneath their now-signature anchor-and-dove logo, Isbell and company sounded triumphant, as though they’ve spent their time on the bus brushing up on E Street Band documentaries and Arcade Fire bootlegs.”

The second night also drew praise: “The set on Tuesday focused primarily on songs from Isbell’s three most recent studio albums — Southeastern, Something More Than Free and The Nashville Sound — avoiding his early solo releases entirely. But the 400 Unit skillfully conjured different modes of rock, slotting the itchy, agitated punk sounds of “Cumberland Gap” right next to the stately heartland rock of “Stockholm” at one point. During the glorious shitty-night narrative “Super 8,” Isbell cracked a smile as he and Sadler Vaden waged a guitar attack that evoked the freewheeling swamp boogie of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The frontman’s well-placed Pete Townshend leap at the song’s end only reinforced the rock-star image he cultivated over the course of the two-hour show.

While Isbell didn’t shy away from his infamously sad and heavy songs, those moments felt like they were coming from a rock band rather than a group of folk-trained musicians. The haunting minor-key melody of “If We Were Vampires” was accented by some eerie synth and guitar textures, while the love song “Cover Me Up” built from Isbell’s acoustic guitar to a pulverizing, powerful climax of Chad Gamble’s thundering drums and Vaden’s sizzling slide work.”

You can read both pieces in full including setlists here and here.

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Author: Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield has been the Editor of Americana UK for the last 17 years and still feels like this is his pretend job, mainly because it is.

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