I realize I haven’t done many record reviews here yet. Historically, I’ve reviewed music, movies and books on my SpaceBrew site. But being that this is a site dedicated to my interest in music, it would make sense to talk about the weather in Beijing. Well, here’s a funny story. I listen to several channels on SiriusXM. Mainly, those are Lithium, Octane (when I’m in a real hard mood), The Bridge and a few 70s stations. I’m mostly into the classic rock stations. Please don’t get me started on Classic Rock as a genre. That’s another column entirely.
But one of the stations I listen to was playing this song, If We Were Vampires by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. See, the thing is, I saw his face on some billboard a year or so ago, and I thought, eff that guy. He looks like a dick. Full of himself and probably some country singer flooding the market with more of the same bullshit we hear from the bro-country guys. “She’s got her feet up on my dash, wearing that little tank top, drinkin’ cold beer on the tailgate on the country roads, ber nehr nehr, ber picka nehr nehr. Fuck off with that same cold beer on a Friday night bullshit. Except for Zac Brown. Who did, as you may recall, speak openly against the bro-country movement himself. His songs are not about drinking beer on a Friday night. That’s just one of the things he likes to do. Why am I talking about Zac Brown. We all know who he is, and that he’s earned his place on my shelf. The wife and I are going to see him with Allen and Sarah in May. Fuck sake. Can we get on with the column now?
So, I’m sitting here admitting to you that I judged this guy by the way he looked on this one billboard. Not an amalgamation of a bunch of his pictures I had seen on the internet. Not a fair assessment based on his music. His voice. His instrumental fortitude. No. Just that one picture. I deserve to be told to go fuck myself. Seriously. And I won’t even try to sway you with the whole, ‘but image is part of music, bro’ argument.
So that Vampires song played on my stereo. It wasn’t a country station I was listening to. And indeed, this is a bare-bones song with only a guitar or two, along with his vocals. But when I heard it, turned it up, then proceeded to let my eyes drift to the screen on my Jeep stereo, I almost flinched. Jason Isbell? Seriously? That douche I used to see on that billboard? I now officially forgive you, Jason, for having had a picture taken of you that made you look arrogant, and having it displayed by a highway I drive, and having me judge you unfairly.
Clearly, I’m the asshole. Because I’m telling you, this song is good.
Ryan and I went to the record store the other day. Big news, huh? I go twice a week on a normal week. But I saw this record sitting there. “The Nashville Sound” by Isbell and the 400 Unit. And I was like, you know what? I think I can trust these guys. If you haven’t heard me say that, allow me to explain exactly what I mean by it: some artists for me are on this short list consisting of people whose albums I will buy, unheard, straight-up based on my belief in them. Say Sheryl Crow, for instance. She puts out an album, I buy it. Then I listen to it. I don’t have to sample that shit. I don’t have to give it a spin first, or run it through Spotify first to test-drive it. I know that whatever she puts out is going to be worthy of my money. If they had a service where you could put in a credit card and subscribe to certain artists, and they would just bill you and send you their new albums when they came out, I would be all over that. With some artists.
John Mayer. Dave Matthews Band. Sheryl Crow. Norah Jones. Tom Waits. The Rolling Stones. You get the point. Visit the website. Check the box next to what media type you would like to receive when they drop a new album. CD? Record? Both? Then when it hits market, they just effing send it to you. Get it? Okay.
So I bought “The Nashville Sound” based on the strength of the Vampires song. I trusted it. I have a good ear for these things. And I got it right on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. This is the best album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s not quite country. It’s, I guess, alt-country. Though there are some songs on the record that are straight up rock. Some really neat stuff going on with the guitars and vocals on some of these tracks. And Isbell has an incredible voice. He’s got that sandpaper rasp that’s so attractive, and he can control it with some serious precision.
There are some beautiful songs on this album. Anxiety and Molotov were another two that really got my head nodding. Let me just say this – in lieu of being able to accurately illustrate the sound of a song with flat text: I don’t tell people to ‘take my word for it’ on many occasions when speaking of new records coming out. I’m saying that here. Even if it doesn’t end up being your favorite record you bought this week, it will be one you’ll want to listen to again. I’m serious. It’s really, really good. I will be finishing out the rest of his catalog, based on the strength of this record – which I bought based on the strength of one song. Yes, I’ll be going Level 3 with this guy, at least for now. Maybe higher later on.
It feels good to be right.