Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
with Maria Taylor
Sat., 5/14 • doors 8 p.m. • $12-15
255 N. Front St.
Born from a long line of musicians, Jason Isbell has been surrounded by music since a young age. Though he plays mostly guitar, he admits to playing any other instrument within arm’s reach.
“I played nearly every day with my grandfather and uncles,” Isbell says. “My dad’s family would gather and play on most Sundays.”
With a long list of influences, including both great songwriters and novelists, Jason Isbell cites Neil Young, Randy Newman, Barry Hannah and Salman Rushdie (and his family of course) to make an impact on his sultry Southern rock. On Saturday, May 14, Wilmingtonians are invited to hear the beats and lyrics of Jason Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit, presented by Soapbox Laundro-Lounge and 98.3 The Penguin.
People may be familiar with Isbell’s name thanks to his stint with the rock group Drive-By Truckers (DBT). But before he made it to the big stage with DBT, he performed at much smaller venues for events like talent shows. “I’ve been bested at battle of the band contests by John Paul White from The Civil Wars and the photographer Joshua Black Wilkins,” Isbell says.
In 2001 the spotlight appeared, however, when DBT picked up Isbell after their breakthrough album “Southern Rock Opera,” and Isbell quickly wrote his way into the hearts of band members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. But in 2007 Isbell and the rock ‘n’ roll band sadly but amicably parted ways due to personal and artistic growth that left everyone with differing dreams and goals.
However, the split marked the beginning of Isbell’s solo career, and in 2007 he released his first solo album “Sirens of the Ditch.” An Alabama native, Isbell’s music began to branch away from the sound branded by DBT. His first CD consisted of more blues and pop, with lyrics rooted deep in his hometown of Muscle Shoals. He even wrote “Dress Blues,” based on the death of a U.S. Marine in the Iraq war who was from his hometown. With his set of pipes and the ability to produce gratifying melodies on guitar and electric keyboard, he created a smooth, country-soul sound for listeners.
In 2009, Isbell became Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, releasing his second solo album and the first with his band. Again, the band tipped its hat to a place from home.
“It was the name of a mental treatment facility [in Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital] where I grew up,” Isbell explains. “Once a week, when they let some of the patients out for lunch, they reminded me of a rock band.”
Isbell has plowed on in his career, having just released his third album last month, “Here We Rest,” named after his home state’s first motto. On the record he continued concentrating on his Alabama homeland.
“As always, I was focused on writing good songs and not screwing them up in the studio,” Isbell explains. “I think certain themes emerged during the process but those weren’t intentional in the beginning.”
The songs on “Here We Rest” continue in Isbell’s homey tradition, telling stories about the people of Alabama and their points-of-view. The first track, which happened to be the first one they recorded, “Alabama Pines,” carries the common thread of appreciating roots and returning to them for recuperation. Isbell did just that after long months of touring with both bands.
“I think the album wound up being about resignation, among other things,” he says.
His richly Southern stories take center stage on Saturday night, May 14, at Soapbox Laundro-Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets are $12-$15, available from etix.com, or bought at the door the night of the show. Taking Soapbox’s stage with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is singer/songwriter, and also Alabama native, Maria Taylor.