Listening Station: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

By Brent Thompson

Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium has become Jason Isbell’s home away from home over the past few years and who could blame him? Though he could easily fill the city’s nearby – and much larger – Bridgestone Arena, the lure of the historic, intimate “Mother Church” remains a powerful one. On the cusp of an upcoming six-night Ryman run, Isbell  – backed by his trusty 400 Unit – is releasing Live From the Ryman [Southeastern Records] on October 19. The 13-track collection spans material from Isbell’s recording catalog and – in addition to being a souvenir of his live show – is an ideal snapshot of his recent output. Tracks including “Elephant,” “Super 8,” “24 Frames” and “If We Were Vampires” display the maturation of the singer/guitarist’s songwriting since his previous live release, Live From Alabama. And while Isbell’s songwriting and guitar skills are well-noted, the tightness of the 400 Unit is often overlooked and Live From the Ryman allows the band to shine. Equal parts folk artist, classic rocker and country troubadour, Live From the Ryman reminds us that Isbell has created a sound that is both universal and personal at once.