Totally Biased Fan Review: Live from the Ryman – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

JasonIsbell_LiveFromTheRyman_Cover

For quite some time, a lot of my Aussie music heroes have been telling me that Jason Isbell is the bees’ knees, the Country Music Messiah and the modern day answer to all of our American Country Music legends from the 90’s.

I have only ever heard a few tracks from Jason. I don’t listen to a lot of American Country Music these days, though this year has produced probably the best that we have heard from there for a while. I tend to concentrate more on homegrown talent, because I believe that it is closer to my heart, my head and my taste. I also want to promote my own country’s music and those who don’t get much of a go.

I thought that the best way to get to know Jason’s music was probably this latest offering, a LIVE album from probably the best known country music venue in the world. I always listen to the words first, particularly in these times, as I can usually tell whether I want to like the artist or not from what they are saying in songs. The melody is secondary to me, though it often helps me like the song. I guess that is the would be poet in me and the fact that I am a product of the 60’s and a lover of folks like Dylan, James Taylor and the like.

For those who know me, will not be surprised that the song that hooked me first was Flagship….with both words and music, White Man’s World, is an important song….which Jason concludes with the spoken words….thanks for listening.

I had heard 24 Frames before, which is lyrically one of the most interesting tracks.

Of course, the versions on this LIVE album are bound to be slightly different to the studio tracks. I can only judge by what I am hearing here.

Something More Than Free is probably one of the most honest songs on the album, though Jason tends to tell it like it is in most of the songs. A lot of working class men and women will be able to relate to this one. It is a real down to earth, gritty song.

I can see why a lot of my singer/songwriter friends like him. I guess that he is one of the modern day outlaws….the way that Waylon, Willie, Merle, Kris, Johnny would have written in current times….the way Willie is still writing.

He also has some original phrases and he plays with words that a lot of modern songwriters from America would not know the meanings of.  I would go so far to say that he is a thinking person’s songwriter, but at the same time, he writes about the average joe and the afflicted and the effected. Elephant is a great example of that.

A lot of his songs seem to express anger or anguish. I guess, technically, they are about the human condition…and how us human’s deal or don’t deal with the situations that we are in or exposed to.

Some have a very high energy value, full on guitars and percussion, others have the lilting sound of strings or soft guitar strumming.

Last of My Kind seems to be the singalong song which often means that the audience relates to a song more than others or that the anthem-like repetition and message seems to stick in a crowd’s head. I think that Jason speaks for a lot of us in this song. It is funny how often we think that we are the only ones that feel a certain way, until we share that thought with others and find out that we are not alone in that way of thinking.

Cover Me Up is probably one of the most “country” songs on the album. It has some conflicting musical variations. The tune is sweet and low, Jason’s voice goes from mellow to soaring. The words are sometimes borderline savage and then plunge into romantic notions. The crowd goes a little wild in this song, cheering on certain lines, either congratulating or agreeing with the singer/songwriter.

The beginning of Super 8 sounds like the start of a Status Quo song…..I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be about Rugby Union or racing cars and then I remembered where this guy comes from….it is about motels.  I guess it is a bit wild for me, but I can see it’s appeal.

The last song, the one about the Vampires…..had been mentioned to me before. In the old tradition of never judge a song by it’s title came to mind. I had been hesitant. A country song about Vampires? Most of my friends had said, no Kaz, you will like it. And of course they were right. It is probably one of my favourites on here.

I am glad that I gave this album a listen. It actually took me a few listens to get into it, but I am happy to say that my friends were right. If this LIVE album is anything to go by, I will be listening to more of Jason.

I’m clapping with the crowd.

Tracks:

Hope the high road

24 Frames

White Man’s World

Flagship

Cumberland Gap

Something More Than Free

The Life You Choose

Elephant

Flying Over Water

Last of My Kind

Cover Me Up

Super 8

If We Were Vampires

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