The Bowery Presents
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Iron & Wine

Thu, June 29, 2017

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 7:00 pm

CMAC (Canandaigua, NY)

Canandaigua, NY

$55, $45, $35, $30, Lawn $25 ADV / $30 DOS

This event is all ages

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s new album, The Nashville Sound, is a beautiful piece of American musicmaking, but watch yourself: it will light a fire under your ass. “You’re still breathing, it’s not too late,” Jason sings.

This album is a call, and the songs on it send sparks flying into a culture that’s already running so hot the needle on the temperature gauge is bouncing erratically in the red. And while it’s understandable that, in this moment, some people want their radio to help them drift away, this finely calibrated set of ten songs is aimed right between the clear eyes of people who prefer to stay present and awake. It’s a call to those who won't cower no matter how erratically the world turns, and who aren’t afraid of what looks back when they look in the mirror. Bruce Springsteen did that. Neil Young did that. Jason Isbell does that.

There are songs on this album that cut to the chase. “Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know,” Isbell sings on the album’s first single, “Hope the High Road.” “But I ain’t fighting with you down in the ditch. I’ll meet you up here on the road.” As singular as that lyric is, there’s nothing coy or obtuse about it. Meanwhile, other songs here take a subtler tack.

Check out track three, “Tupelo.” It plays like a warm ode to Northeast Mississippi—on the first few listens, it sure sounds like a loving tribute—but on the fourth you realize that the town the protagonist is extolling is actually a blazing hellhole. Perfect—as a hideout, anyway. “You get about a week of spring and the summer is blistering,” Isbell sings. “There ain’t no one from here who will follow me there.” It’s the kind of twist that compels the fifth listen—and the fiftieth.

As with Isbell’s 2013 breakthrough, Southeastern, and his double-Grammy-winning follow up, 2015’s Something More Than Free, The Nashville Sound was produced by Dave Cobb. Isbell says that he and Cobb created a simple litmus test for the decisions they made in the two weeks they spent at RCA Studios (which was known as “The home of the Nashville Sound” back in the ’60’s and ’70s): they only made sonic moves that their heroes from back in the day could’ve made, but simply never did. It’s a shrewd approach—an honest way to keep the wiz-bang of modern recording technology at arms length, while also leaving the old bag of retro rock ’n’ roll tricks un-rummaged. Lyrically, The Nashville Sound is timely. Musically, it is timeless.

It’s also worth noting that this album isn’t credited to Isbell alone. For the first time since 2011’s Here We Rest, Isbell’s band, the 400 Unit, gets title billing. “Even when I was writing, I could always hear the band’s stamp on the finished product,” Jason says. “These songs needed more collaboration on the arrangements to make them work, and I felt like the band deserved it after the way they played.” Given Cobb’s strict insistence on cutting songs live with no demos or rehearsals, you can easily imagine how the brilliantly raw performances on the record will translate to the stage when the band takes these new songs out on the road.

And boy, there’s nothing like a 400 Unit show. Not just because the band smokes, but also because Isbell’s fans are among music’s most ardent. They listen to these songs for months and months on their own, and that momentum rolls them right up to the doors at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, or the Beacon Theatre in New York or the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. And when the band kicks in, they are ecstatic. It’s a rock ’n’ roll show that feels like fellowship.

Which begs a question: Why do Jason’s songs strike us so deeply? What makes this music of the soul? The answer has to do with Jason’s authenticity, his intellect, his rootedness in both tradition (see: the childhood in Green Hill, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals, where he grew up picking and singing in the style he remembers here on “Something To Love”) as well as modernity (see: Jason singing about anxiety, or his complicated relationship to his iPhone).

Simply put, Jason has a gift for taking big, messy human experiences and compressing them into badass little combustible packages made of rhythm, melody and madly efficient language. The songs are full of little hooks—it could be guitar line that catches one listener, or a quick lyric that strikes to the heart of another—and an act of transference takes place. The stories Jason tells become our own. The music is coming not from Jason and the band, but from within us.

As you listen to this record, you will hear many themes: humor, heartache, wisdom, beauty, hope. But chief among them, strangely, is leadership.

If Southeastern (2013) was the Getting Sober record (Jason has been searingly honest in both songs and interviews about the time he spent in rehab), and Something More Than Free (2015) was the New Clarity record, maybe this one, The Nashville Sound, is the Way Forward.

And who better to lead us forward than Jason Isbell? Jason is a relentless and fearless selfinterrogator. (The first line of “Cumberland Gap”—“There’s an answer here if I look hard enough”—will be familiar to those who know him.) And this album is a challenge, a gauntlet in song: Let’s claim ownership of our biases (“White Man’s World”). Let’s embrace and celebrate the uncomfortable idea that the force that activates both life and love is death (the instantclassic “If We Were Vampires”). Let’s consciously choose light over darkness (“Hope the High Road”). And for God’s sake, if you are feeling anxious, alone, disenfranchised, depressed, mad as hell, or scared as shit, find something that gasses you up and work at it (“Something to Love”). Jason, it seems, after years grinding the rail that separates terra firma from the brink, has put in the sweat equity it takes to hug it out with his demons and fill his life with meaning, bright and clean.

If that sounds good to you, this album lights the path.
Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine
beast epic. n. A long, usually allegorical verse narrative in which the characters are animals with human feelings and motives.

I must confess that I’ve always shied away from album introductions citing the usual "dancing to architecture" cop out.  Speaking to their own work is uncomfortable for many artists, but I’ve made a new album called Beast Epic which is important to me and I wanted to take a moment to talk about why.  I’ve been releasing music for about fifteen years now and I feel very blessed to have put out five other full lengths, many EPs and singles, a few collaborations with people much more talented than myself, and made contributions to numerous movie scores and soundtracks.  This is my sixth collection of new Iron & Wine material and I’m happy to say that it’s my fourth for Sub Pop Records.
  
It’s a warm and serendipitous time to be reuniting with my Seattle friends because I feel there’s a certain kinship between this new collection of songs and my earliest material, which Sub Pop was kind enough to release.  In hindsight, both The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002) and Our Endless Numbered Days (2004) epitomize a reflective and confessional songwriting style (although done with my own ferocious commitment to understatement, of course).  I have been and always will be fascinated by the way time asserts itself on our bodies and our hearts.  The ferris wheel keeps spinning and we’re constantly approaching, leaving or returning to something totally unexpected or startlingly familiar.  The rite of passage is an image I've returned to often because I feel we’re all constantly in some stage of transition.  Beast Epic is saturated with this idea but in a different way simply because each time I return to the theme, I’ve collected new experiences to draw from.  Where the older songs painted a picture of youth moving wide-eyed into adulthood’s violent pleasures and disappointments, this collection speaks to the beauty and pain of growing up after you’ve already grown up. For me, that experience has been more generous in its gifts and darker in its tragedies.

The sound of Beast Epic harks back to previous work, in a way, as well.  By employing the old discipline of recording everything live and doing minimal overdubbing, I feel like it wears both its achievements and its imperfections on its sleeve.  Over the years, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different genres, sonics and songwriting styles and all that traveled distance is evident in the feel and the arrangements here, but the muscles seemed to have relaxed and been allowed to effortlessly do what they do best.
I’ve been fortunate to get to play with some very talented musicians over the years who are both uniquely intuitive and also expressive in exciting ways.  This group was no different. We spent about two weeks recording and mixing but mostly laughing at The Loft in Chicago. 

To be honest, I’ve named this record BEAST EPIC mostly because it sounds really fucking cool!  However, with that said and perhaps to be completely honest, “a story where animals talk and act like people” sounds like the perfect description for the life of any of us.  If not that, then it’s at least perfect for any group of songs I’ve ever tried to make.  I hope you enjoy it. — Sam Beam, Iron & Wine
Venue Information:
CMAC (Canandaigua, NY)
3355 Marvin Sands Drive
Canandaigua, NY, 14424
http://www.cmacevents.com/