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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Live at the Ryman – 2018 (Southeastern)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell didn't record this live effort at The Ryman Auditorium as a gesture to be country music's savior at The Mother Church of Country Music. The Alabama native's music is country-adjacent at best, more than it is traditional in the way, say, Sturgill Simpson's can be. He may not be coming to the faltering genre's rescue, but he's sure breathing life into modern music in general. "Live From the Ryman" finds Isbell and his sharp band (the 400 Unit) on a good night, with a quality setlist impossible to fault.

If you're late to the Isbell party, "Live From the Ryman" is a fine place to start. It features two of Isbell's best love songs, "Flagship" and "If We Were Vampires." Keep in mind, Isbell love songs are never McCartney-esc 'silly love songs.' "If We Were Vampires" somberly ponders the 'until death do us part' section of a couple's wedding vows, while "Flagship" strives to keep the fires of love burning, even in the face of potential stagnation. Even "Cover Me Up" combines trust issues, sobriety and new love into a beautifully complicated romantic acoustic piece.

Although Isbell doesn't try to do anything more than consistently write and perform high quality music, "Last of My Kind" does present the man and his music as a somewhat a dying breed. Every aging generation likely thinks the one coming after it is missing out on passed down values, though.

Isbell can sure write tragically sad songs, which was once nearly the sole domain of country music. Few songs in recent memory are as sad as "Elephant," which deals realistically with the impending cancer death of a friend. However, with "Super 8," an out-and-out Southern riff rocker, Isbell proves he hasn't forgotten how to crank it up the way he once did as a member of Drive-By Truckers.

"Live From the Ryman" is a wonderfully recorded live performance, sure to conjure up deja vu vibes for anyone that's already experienced an Isbell concert. There isn't a dud track in the bunch, and any self-respecting Isbell fan would be satisfied if he played this collection in their town.