Drive-By Truckers

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s new album Live from Alabama captures the raw energy of the band’s live show in a hometown setting. While the album isn’t likely to draw in new listeners, fans of roots rock and country will enjoy it (Photo Courtesy of Joshua Black Wilkins).

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Live from Alabama
Artist: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Album: Live from Alabama
Label: Lightning Rod Records
Songs to Download: “Outfit,” “Like a Hurricane”

Since parting ways with the Drive-By Truckers in 2007 to embark on a solo career, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jason Isbell has maintained a steady stream of quality album releases that has mirrored the consistency and prolific output of his former band. Sirens of the Ditch marked a promising solo debut for Jason Isbell. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit hit a new stride in 2009, and Isbell displayed progression as a writer and performer on 2011’s Here We Rest.

Live from Alabama, out Tuesday from Lightning Rod Records, captures the raw energy of the band’s live show in a hometown setting. Recorded during two sold-out shows, one at the WorkPlay Theater in Birmingham, the other at the Crossroads Cafe in Huntsville, the album features 13 songs that span Isbell’s career, from his tenure with the Truckers on up through the present day.

The 400 Unit, composed of keyboardist Derry DeBorja, bassist Jimbo Hart and drummer Chad Gamble, performs these songs with seemingly effortless precision, providing a sturdy framework for Isbell’s husky baritone. The songs themselves, like much of Isbell’s work, revolve around stories of growing up in the South and the angels and demons that hide in the shadows of Southern small-town America.

The set opens with “Tour of Duty,” the closing track from Here We Rest. It serves as an appropriate introduction for a band that has played hundreds of shows each year since its formation in 2009. Isbell then reaches back six years for “Decoration Day,” the title track to the 2003 Drive-By Truckers’ album.

After blasting through another DBT classic, “Goddamn Lonely Love,” the band then launches into a spry rendition of Candi Staton’s 1970 single “Heart on a String,” originally recorded by the Alabama R&B singer at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

“Danko/Manuel,” another holdover from Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers days, follows, featuring a guest brass section of trombone, trumpet and saxophone. “In a Razor Town” from Isbell’s 2007 debut, displays some of his trademark lines that parody life in the South: “In a Razor Town you take whoever you think you can keep around.”

The same can be said for the two subsequent songs, “Alabama Pines” and “Outfit.” The latter, which is another song culled from Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers output is a song he wrote for his father with trademark Southern wit: “Well, I used to go out in a Mustang / a 302 Mach 1 in green / till me and your mama made you in the back / and I sold it to buy her a ring.”

“Cigarettes and Wine,” “TVA,” “The Blue” and “Dress Blues” lead up to the record’s final statement: a blistering cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.” Isbell’s voice sounds clean and raw, and the Alabama crowd clearly enjoys every minute of it.

Isbell keeps the between-song banter to a minimum, instead focusing on the performances of the songs themselves. The limited stylistic range is not likely to win over many new fans from outside the spheres of roots rock or country, but for fans of the genres, Live from Alabama captures one of the best singer/songwriter-and-band combinations doing what they do best.

Quick Takes

Kid Rock – Rebel Soul
Artist: Kid Rock

Album: Rebel Soul
Label: Atlantic
Songs to Download: “Chickens in the Pen,” “Let’s Ride”

After actually coming close to artistic respectability with 2010’s Born Free, the Detroit rap-rocker returns to what he does best: writing and recording songs about strippers, white trash and every kind of sleaze known to the back rooms of Heartland America.

Rihanna – Unapologetic
Artist: Rihanna

Album: Unapologetic
Label: Def Jam
Songs to Download: “Diamonds,” “Pour It Up”

The prolific pop diva releases her seventh album since 2005. Highlights include the bombastic “Diamonds,” the Mike Will collaboration “Pour It Up” and the dance-infused Chris Brown duet
“Nobody’s Business.”

Elvis Costello – In Motion Pictures
Artist: Elvis Costello

Album: In Motion Pictures
Label: Hip-O Records
Songs to Download: “Accidents Will Happen,” “Seven Day Weekend”

This compilation presents a set of 15 songs by the British pub-rocker that have been featured in films. The collection showcases Costello’s ability to write cinematic, theme-oriented music while also serving as a comprehensive survey of his ever-evolving 35-plus year career.

Printed on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 as: New release infused with Southern charm

Patterson Hood, also a member of Drive-By Truckers, will be performing in Austin beginning on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Andy Tennille.

Photo Credit: Andy Tennillee | Daily Texan Staff

In the 57-plus-year history of the rock ‘n’ roll singer/songwriter, a recognizable archetype has emerged: that of the brash blues-shouting rock band frontman who can also lay down the electric guitar and bear his or her soul with a set of sparse, introspective, acoustic-based songs. It is a trend that arguably began with Bob Dylan, was mastered by Neil Young and has continued through the years with albums by songwriters such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Beck, Ryan Adams and Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan.

Patterson Hood is a proud inheritor of this tradition. As singer/songwriter and bandleader for the Drive-By Truckers, his primary job is to bash out straight-ahead dirty Southern rock in ballrooms and music halls across the country. However, over the last decade, and despite the Truckers’ relentless touring and recording schedule, Hood has also managed to release three intimate, stripped-down solo records, the last of which, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, came out in September.

“The Truckers, we kind of thrive on a certain amount of anarchy,” Hood said via telephone, about 170 miles outside of San Diego en route to Austin. “Like, I never tell anyone what to do more than maybe a suggestion at the most in that band. So with this I had this very specific ... I wanted it to be sparse, I didn’t really want any kind of lead guitar-type playing or anything like that. I wanted to keep it personal and intimate.”

This week Hood will bring his softer acoustic approach to two Austin stages: a two-night stand beginning Wednesday at UT’s Cactus Cafe, followed by a 6:30 p.m. Friday performance on the BMI stage as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

“I’m totally psyched about all of it,” Hood said. “Austin’s always been one of my favorite cities. In the last few years it’s kind of hit where we get to Austin and then have another show the next day somewhere else and we don’t get to hang out. So it’s going to be cool having, like, three days there. That’ll be a great experience.”

Hood is accompanied on the road by his backing band, the Downtown Rumblers, as well as fellow Athens, Ga., residents Page and Claire Campbell of the alt-folk duo Hope For Agoldensummer. The group is in the final leg of a four-week tour that wraps up Thursday in Central Texas before Hood rejoins the Truckers.

“It’s been great, one of my favorite tours ever,” Hood said. “When I put this tour together, we were very careful to kind of book it mainly in venues that were small and intimate and that tended to be seated shows, more like the Cactus. But we also had like three festival shows mixed in with it, and I was kind of curious how this show would work on the big outdoor stage kind of thing. But it’s really kind of amazed me how well it’s worked. The show the other day in San Francisco was at Golden Gate Park, and, I mean, there were literally thousands of people there, and it went over really, really good. It worked in that setting far better than I ever would have predicted.”

The band will play Wednesday and Thursday night at the Cactus at 8:30 p.m. before hitting the big stage at ACL Friday. It will be Hood’s first performance at the revered venue since a South By Southwest showcase for ‘No Depression” back in 2006.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Cactus Cafe manager Matt Muñoz said. “This album in particular is a little bit less Drive-By-Trucker-y, in-your-face kind of rock ‘n’ roll and a little bit more of an Americana thing. So I think it’s the right room.”