Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit

Live from Alabama

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Not long after Jason Isbell released his first solo album, 2007's Sirens of the Ditch, he released an EP, Live at Twist and Shout, which documented an in-store performance by Isbell and his band the 400 Unit at a Denver, Colorado record shop. Just four years later, Isbell has delivered another live disc, Live from Alabama, a full-length album culled from a pair of August 2012 concerts, and if one wonders why Isbell seems so keen to record his live sets, one listen will tell you why: Isbell and his band are at their best in front of an audience, and Live from Alabama demonstrates Isbell's impressive gifts as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, and frontman. While his work with the Drive-By Truckers was impressive, he's grown tremendously as a singer since striking out on his own, and with a crowd to cheer him on, Isbell delivers the goods on Live from Alabama, sounding richly soulful on "Heart on a String," rueful and evocative on "In a Razor Town," and full of bluesy swagger on "The Blue." If the 400 Unit lack the volume and firepower of the DBTs, the smaller, more dynamic combo leaves more room for dynamics and subtlety, which works well for Isbell's songs (the versions of "Decoration Day" and "Danko/Manuel" here rival those he recorded with the Truckers), and like his vocals, Isbell's guitar work is all the more impressive when it doesn't have to fight for space. As a storyteller, Isbell's tales of dashed hopes and Southern pride are powerful, realistic, and keenly intelligent, and he and the band bring them to life with just the right touch. And the closing cover of Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" is a barn-burning finale. If you haven't seen Isbell and the 400 Unit on-stage, Live from Alabama will likely convince you to show up the next time they play in your area, and if you already have, this will remind you why you walked home impressed.

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