Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jason Isbell [extended]

  • Sirens of the Ditch [New West, 2007] *
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit [Lightning Rod, 2009] Dud
  • Here We Rest [Lightning Rod, 2011] **
  • Southeastern [Southeastern, 2013] ***
  • Something More Than Free [Southeastern, 2015] A-
  • The Nashville Sound [Southeastern/Thirty Tigers, 2017] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Sirens of the Ditch [New West, 2007]
Like so many major talents, more major in a group ("Dress Blues," "Try"). *

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

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: 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") **

Southeastern [Southeastern, 2013]
The problem with sobriety records is that they're so damn sober ("Elephant," "Cover Me Up") ***

Something More Than Free [Southeastern, 2015]
Although his alt-Americana base may find him less "authentic" now, it's a musical positive that getting sober has finally cheered Isbell up. The resigned confidence of his singing signifies mental health. His contained Alabama drawl and guitar-bass-drums aesthetic mark his people as Southern whites of modest prospects subject to the "powder keg ready to blow" that is God's will. Talk of The Bell Jar and "character sets" mark him as a participant-observer while reminding bicoastalists how many Southern whites of modest prospects live in a larger world than bicoastalists imagine. A-

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: 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

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