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Jason Isbell Keeps On Truckin’

“It’s like looking at old pictures of your college roommates and then looking at the people that are sitting around your living room now,” says Jason Isbell of the songs he wrote during his days with the Drive-By Truckers that remain part of his live set with his current band, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit. The latter’s new release, Live From Alabama, includes a handful of Isbell-penned Truckers tunes, like “Outfit,” “Decoration Day,” and “Danko/Manuel,” along with songs from the three studio albums he’s cut since splitting from the Truckers in 2007.

“I haven’t listened to those old arrangements of those [Truckers] songs for so long,” says Isbell, “compared to how many times I’ve heard this band play them, that I really don’t remember exactly what they sounded like [originally]. The songs still conjure up the same images for me, and I still think about the same things that inspired me to write the songs in the first place, but I guess it’s just different because I’m up there with different people.”

While Isbell harbors no ill will towards his old bandmates, he’s definitively living a separate life from them these days. “I don’t really have a relationship with ‘em,” he says. “We get along when we see each other, I talk to Patterson [Hood, DBT frontman] every once in a while. I saw him a couple of months ago in Nashville at the Americana Awards. We get along fine, but I don’t think there’s any need to have a working relationship at this point. They’re all busy, and Lord knows I am.”

Listening to Live From Alabama makes it clear just how busy native Alabaman Isbell and his current accomplices have been. Over the last five years they’ve built up a worthy repertoire, a loyal audience, and a sound that has some relation to that of Isbell’s former band but bears its own identity. Both bands blend influences from alt rock and Americana to classic soul, but The 400 Unit shaves off some of the Neil Young & Crazy Horse fuzztone frenzy of the Truckers in favor of a more singer/songwriter-oriented approach to framing the tunes.

That doesn’t make them any less of a cohesive unit, though. Their all-for-one aesthetic is even apparent in Isbell’s account of the band name’s provenance. “It was a mental treatment facility in Florence Alabama,” he explains, “it was the crazy house. I’ve had lots of family members in there over the years. I think we were downtown and saw the van get out one day with the folks that were day patients, they would give them 10 or 15 bucks and put a name tag on ‘em and let ‘em got to Subway or something. It occurred to me that it looked just like a band on the road for six or eight weeks trying to get out and find some food in a small town.” Isbell reiterates that he often feels that way when he’s on the road with The 400 Unit, observing, “I can tell we’re causing discomfort in the locals sometimes when we stop and get out.”

Explaining the thinking behind releasing a live recording now, Isbell says, “I wanted to document the band like it is at this point in time. I think we’re connecting really well musically, we’re playing really well, we’re all having a good time. I wanted to capture that before it changed into something else, as it always does. And from a practical viewpoint, a lot of those songs that I did with the Truckers, people come up now who’ve never heard the Truckers records and say, ‘Where do I find this, how do I get this song?’ Personally, I’d rather sell ‘em something myself than steer ‘em to a record that [DBT’s label] New West put out.”

Some think of Isbell as sort of the Bruce Springsteen of the South, in terms of his knack for chronicling the tragedies and triumphs of the region’s working-class denizens, but there’s little of the E Street Band-style onstage pageantry in The 400 Unit’s onstage m.o. Whether they’re tackling a Truckers tune like “Outfit,” in which Isbell receives some sardonic advice from his father, or a newer song like “Tour of Duty,” chronicling a soldier’s return home, the band squanders nary a note.

“There are different kinds of energy that an audience can give you,” says Isbell of his stage experience. “You can usually tell if it’s gonna be a rowdy crowd, or if it’s gonna be a listening crowd, or if it’s just gonna be a crowd that’s not paying any attention to you whatsoever. I handle rowdy crowds and attentive crowds very differently but I feel like they’re pretty equal in value from a performer’s perspective. I love playing for people who are having a good time and I equally love playing for people who are studying everything you say and really paying attention. As long as they’re with me, as long as they’re in the room for a reason, doing something different than they would be doing at a bar next door, it’s always positive for me. The shows go better when people are with you, when they’re participating.”

Turning philosophical about the prospect of live performance, Isbell calls up an unexpected analogy. “I remember going to see Radiohead a long time ago,” he says, “when I was probably 21, 22 years old, and thinking, ‘Man I’m surrounded by a huge group of people who are very similar to me right now — all about my same age, and they all seem to be the nerdy kids from high school.’ And that felt really good to me. I think if you make yourself part of the experience, there’s still reasons go to see live music.”

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Judge The Ernie Ball “Save Your Strings” Pop Competition

How would you like to see your favorite pop artist win a year’s supply of strings and accessories from Ernie Ball? Now what if we added that one Grand Prize winner will also receive an endorsement deal from Ernie Ball, along with a Music Man guitar or bass for each guitarist in their band?

Pretty amazing deal, right? Well that’s exactly what we’re offering with our Ernie Ball Save Your Strings Competition. All you have to do is head over to the Pop channel by April 26 and get voting for your favorite artist.



Timberlake’s “Suit And Tie” Official Video

Justin Timberlake continues on his quest to bring suave back, along with recent partner Jay-Z, in this official video for his new single “Suit & Tie,” directed by David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club, Seven).

Vintage vibes abound in the black and white clip, with a centerpiece of a tuxedoed JT performing in a dim nightclub, and additional scenes with old school studio microphones, cocktail glasses, massages, and other Rat Pack-esque accouterments. And also sexy ladies. And some water ballet. Check it out.

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Soundtrax: Anti-Valentine’s Day Songs

Anti-Valentine’s Day by OurStage on Grooveshark


For those of you who couldn’t stand all the sap in our Valentine’s Day playlist, this one’s for you. We’ve filled this week’s Soundtrax with heartache, misery, and a touch of independence for those of you looking to get away from candy-filled hearts and store-bought flowers. Frank Turner, the Buzzcocks, and OurStage artist the Airborne Toxic Event are just a few of the bands on this week’s list that are right there beside you.

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Line-up for Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival: The ABC’s

Wilco‘s Solid Sound Festival is announcing the line-up for their Solid Sound Festival over the course of the alphabet. That is, they are slowly posting the names of the acts in alphabetical order over on their Facebook page.

E is for expecting the “E” band in a few minutes. I’m very excited for “L” and I’ll tell you why as soon as we get there…
UPDATE: It’s because L is for Lucius, a band we love, and we’re doing an exclusive recording session with them tomorrow.

Academy of Country Music Awards Nominees

I wonder how long country music awards shows think they’re going to be able to claim Taylor Swift as a country artist. I think that train has sailed. Swift was among this year’s nominees for Album of the Year at the Country Music Awards for her shit-kickin’, twang fest Red, and garnered four other nominations, including Entertainer of the Year. Miranda Lambert, another Entertainer of the Year nominee, ties Swift with a total of five nominations.

The big leaders, though, are Eric Church, with seven nominations around his album Chief, and Hunter Hayes, with six, including Song of the Year and Single of the Year (because maybe the Song of the Year will be a deep cut, right?) for his song “Wanted.”

The 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast live on CBS on April 7th and will be hosted this year by Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.

See the full list of nominees below.

Continue reading ‘Academy of Country Music Awards Nominees’

News In Brief: February 12, 2013

Lots of interesting little bits today, kiddos.

Timbuck and the JZA…what, I can’t make up nicknames for popular entertainers that I hope will catch on, even though they’re super-stupid and I know they won’t? Fine, Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z (happy?) are reportedly planning a big tour together. Jay-Z guests on JT’s new “Suit And Tie” and the pair have been appearing together a lot recently, most notably at the Grammys this past Sunday. Via Rolling Stone

Spin has neatly summarized the pop-up feud between The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and Leif Garrett Justin Bieber. Carney, cornered by TMZ cameras, let out a short dig at the pop’s littlest sensation. Known lately for taking shots at some, uh, easy targets, Carney’s remarks hinted that Bieber had been snubbed at the Grammys because the Grammys are for music. Conclusions drawn. Bieber hit back on twitter that Carney should be “slapped around haha.” HAHA YOU ASSHOLE, I WILL HAVE YOUR LEGS BROKEN, is what we think he was getting at. Carney then invited a more intimate form of corporal punishment.

Phoenix has announced an impending new album, called Bankrupt! I can’t imagine the title has anything to do with the French quartet’s bank accounts, after the success (and double success if you count some mega licensing deals) of 2009′s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (named in tribute to Eddie Van Halen‘s son Wolfgang, I assume). Tour dates, track list, over at the AV Club.

Despite the buzz, which itself was despite the consistent denials, Ben Gibbard has again refuted the notion of a new Postal Service LP. It is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, MUSIC NERDS. Gibbard “broke” the “news” while announcing that there are two new singles, both to be included with the reissue of Give Up.

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Latin Artists: Enter To Be The Next El Headliner

Latin artists, are you ready for your close-up? OurStage and Tr3s have teamed up to offer one lucky Latin artist an incredible opportunity for spotlight coverage on Tr3s network’s Top 20, and’s Music My GüeyDescubre y Download, and Blogamole. Just enter your best song into the “Tr3s Latin Music Channel” by March 23 for a shot at some incredible coverage.

Family Of The Year Performs On Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Los Angeles’ Family Of The Year performed a couple of songs for the Jimmy Kimmel Live! audience last night. The band played their single “Hero,” a heartbreaking indie folk ballad, as well as St. Croix, which is offered as a bonus track on the JKL site.

Family Of The Year released their debut LP Loma Vista in 2012 on Nettwerk Records and are currently on tour throughout the U.S. Click here for dates.

See St. Croix after the jump.
Continue reading ‘Family Of The Year Performs On Jimmy Kimmel Live!’

Passion Pit Headlines Madison Square Garden: Photos has posted a series of images from the scene inside New York’s Madison Square Garden when, as we reported last week, electro popsters (and Boston’s own) Passion Pit played the legendary venue with openers Matt & Kim and Icona Pop.

It’s one thing to hear about and understand that these relatively un-assuming indie bands have risen to the level where they can fill MSG. It’s quite another to gaze at the photo evidence and get a sense of the intensity that must have gone down, in the midst of a near-blizzard, no less, when these acts took the stage.

As Spin puts it, “Here’s what happens when the little guys become the big guys.”

Passion Pit


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