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For Jason Isbell, the wait was worth it

Royale, Boston, December 11, 2012

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The wait for Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit was indeed an extremely long one - one week actually - but well worth it for the rootsy guitarist.

Isbell and his capable backing quartet showed up to Beantown about a week late although that was no fault of their own. The original venue for the show - the Sinclair in Cambridge - was not ready for the concert.

Well into the show, Isbell thanked the crowd for being willing to wait and showing up, but for those willing to wait, smart move.

Isbell's proved to be a consistently solid performer during the 105-minute show. There's a lot of guitar in the sonics for the former Drive-By Truckers member (not afraid to look back, he played several songs from DBT including Decoration Day, Goddamn Lonely Love and Outfit, on which Isbell told a humorous story about a fan, who pretty much showed up to hear that particular song, repeatedly shouting it out during the show.

While rock was never too far from Isbell's signature sound, he was not hamstrung by it either. Isbell could go softer with a more traditional country sound (the Americana Music Association's Song of the Year Alabama Pines about taking a joyful look back at his native Alabama in a time of need) and soulful as well. Isbell offered a cover of The Meters' Hey Pocky A-Way, which hit the mark. The rootsier side was on display in the lead-off song of the encore Danko/Manuel, as in Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of The Band.

The music was punctuated particularly by keyboardist Derry Deborja. Violin player and occasional backing vocalist Amanda Shires, who has put out some fine music on her own, added nice touches to the music. At times, her playing was lost in the din, but, more often than not, the sweet sounds, came through. Drummer Chad Gamble, who took lead vocals on one song, paired with bassist Jimbo Hart for a solid rhythm section.

Isbell made a smart ink with Neil Young on the closing song of the night Like a Hurricane, which rocked, but also had a rootsy element. That pretty much describes where Isbell came from. Long may he run.