Release Date: Nov 19, 2012
Record label: Lightning Rod Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Country-Rock, Roots Rock, Southern Rock
The timing of ex-Drive-By Trucker Isbell’s first full concert album — there was a previous live EP — couldn’t have been better. He just won the Americana Music Awards and Honors song of the year for “Alabama Pines,” and his 400 Unit backing trio — here augmented by a three piece horn section for a few tunes — is in fighting form. Proudly captured raw with no overdubs during two performances from his titular home state, this 72 minute gig is everything a live album should be.
Since Jason Isbell emerged as the pup head to the Drive-By Truckers’ southern rock Cerberus about a decade ago, it’s been hard not to attach the phrase “promising” to the guy. Isbell’s first released recordings — amounting to just six songs on the band’s Decoration Day (2003) and The Dirty South (2004) — possess a narrative clarity that some songwriters take a career to develop. The rasp and drawl to his tenor makes songs about John Henry and archetypal Southern family feuds sink in like hard-learned life lessons, as much from the gut as the sad-funny advice from dad on “Outfit” and the sad-sad touring meditations on “Danko/Manuel”.
Not long after Jason Isbell released his first solo album, 2007's Sirens of the Ditch, he released an EP, Live at Twist and Shout, which documented an in-store performance by Isbell and his band the 400 Unit at a Denver, Colorado record shop. Just four years later, Isbell has delivered another live disc, Live from Alabama, a full-length album culled from a pair of August 2012 concerts, and if one wonders why Isbell seems so keen to record his live sets, one listen will tell you why: Isbell and his band are at their best in front of an audience, and Live from Alabama demonstrates Isbell's impressive gifts as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, and frontman. While his work with the Drive-By Truckers was impressive, he's grown tremendously as a singer since striking out on his own, and with a crowd to cheer him on, Isbell delivers the goods on Live from Alabama, sounding richly soulful on "Heart on a String," rueful and evocative on "In a Razor Town," and full of bluesy swagger on "The Blue.
Jason Isbell’s way with words — taking up home, family, the South, life at the margins of love or means — was proven during his time with Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, and it’s only gotten stronger over the course of three solo records. His Trucker and post-Trucker material are equally represented on this new live offering. Observers have noted that Isbell has moved toward a quieter, country-infused sound on his own; but he and his band know how to get loud.