Jason Isbell’s star has been rising for some time now, and with his latest release The Nashville Sound, the Alabama-born country singer and former Drive-By Truckers member appears to have truly broken into the mainstream. His first album credited to him and his band The 400 Unit since 2011’s Here We Rest (both 2013’s Southeastern and 2015’s Something More Than Free featured the band, but were billed as solo releases), The Nashville Sound contains some of Isbell’s most rocking solo moments yet. When Isbell was last at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2015, it was as an opener for My Morning Jacket, a band making its first foray into headlining amphitheater-sized venues. This time it was Isbell’s turn, playing to a packed audience on a hot late-June night in Columbia.
From his stint with the legendary Drive-By Truckers, to a run of solo albums with his band the 400 Unit, it's always been clear that Jason Isbell is a master songwriter. With 2013's Southeastern, a newly sober Isbell was embraced by the world at large and has been winning awards and selling out shows ever since.
On The Nashville Sound, Isbell is putting his band front and center and delivering some of the strongest songs of his career...except one. Join Kevin, Paul, Eduardo, and Marcus (Dowling) as they dig deep into this national treasure's latest, consider the art of songwriting, and take a serious look at what being woke in 2017 can, and should mean.
PLUS! We've got a killer track of of Mink's Miracle Medicine's debut LP, House Of Candles! Fans of Neko Case/Patsy Cline... GET IN HERE!
A swelteringly hot summer evening couldn’t stop the rock on Sunday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, where My Morning Jacket and Jason Isbell came to share material from their recent albums and more.
A lauded guitarist and songwriter, Isbell released his fifth record, Something More Than Free, just over a week ago. The album has already broken expectations by reaching number one on not just the country Billboard charts, but on the rock, indie, and folk charts as well. At the core of his 11-song opening set were five tracks from that album, along with several each from the previous two releases, Southeastern and Here We Rest. Longtime fans even got some service in “Decoration Day,” the title track of one the Drive-By Truckers – a band Isbell famously did some time in – most memorable albums.
Isbell’s songs are narratives; each one feeling like it has a story to tell, something which could easily be lost to an opening act in a venue the size of Merriweather where thousands of people are there only to see the main act (especially a quiet country artist opening for a rock band known for their much louder performances). But Isbell and his band the 400 Unit managed to draw the attention of that crowd surprisingly well, and by the end of his set he’d surely made more than a few new fans.
This week on the podcast we’re talking new albums from Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves! Both artists delivered highly acclaimed records in 2013 - Southeastern and Same Trailer Different Park respectively – and now are back with their hotly anticipated follow ups. Are Something More Than Free and Pagent Material worth the wait? Can these immensely talented artists charged with, for better or for worse, changing the face of country music strike lightening twice? Kevin, Paul and Patrick dig deep into both records and try come up with the answers.
But first! Returning to the podcast after what seems far too long, Ben Tufts, the hardest working musician in the DC Scene, swings by the basement to fill us in on his upcoming annual Ben Tufts and Friends Benefit show on August 22nd at Jammin’ Java. Started as a way to honor the work of his father, the all day concert fundraiser has grown steadily from year to year, and this time out it’s bigger than ever.
So tune in, grab a seat and get ready for a super-charged, super-informative audio adventure. Coming to you live-ish from the baddest basement in DC, it’s Episode 125 of ChunkyGlasses: The Podcast!
10. Kanye West – Yeezus
Dark. Aggressive. Complex. Offensive. Kanye West’s 5th album is all of these things, but most of all it’s his most creatively risky effort to date. Sonically, Yeezus is operating on a completely other level then anything released this year — in fact it makes most records sound lazy in comparison. But a funny thing happened on the way Yeezus becoming the stuff of legend: Kanye got in the way. What could have been a juggernaut of an album is sidetracked by West’s overly misogynistic lyrics, and his continuing lack of self awareness. Social commentary is a hard trick to pull off in any arena, but when you present yourself as the American dream — because you pretty much ARE the American dream — and then attempt to attack that in any measure, the results are at best trite, and at worst laughable.
To be clear, this is an ongoing issue that West suffers, and he is at his best operation as the fairly unchallenged master of pop that he has made himself into. But for now (and this opinion is constantly shifting) Yeezus remains more Zooropa* and less Achtung Baby. It’s clear that there is a masterful artist at work here who is willing to sacrifice the end result for the sake of experimenting with his art, but the attempt is only half of the secret recipe: You’ve gotta stick the landing.
*For the record, I freaking LOVE Zooropa. LOVE. IT.
9. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer, Different Park / Ashley Monroe – Like A Rose
Why two albums? Because both perfectly represent the struggle that “modern country music” faces in 2013. Deservedly maligned by the discerning music fan since the days when the thunder rolled, there’s been a shift over the last few years away from the assembly line nature of what hits the airwaves, back to the more personal, less manufactured music that is the bedrock of a large portion of the American songbook. Musgraves “Merry-Go-Round” and Monroe’s “Like A Rose” are at once eloquent and utilitarian in their assessment of small town living, and rivalJason Isbell’s acumen for commentary of the human experience.
Unlike Isbell though, both artists go slightly off the rails by the end of their song cycles, giving in to the machine’s need for a “hit.” And in doing so they both keep what might have been a duo of timeless, universal records tied to a genre that both artists very clearly can, and should, rise above. That having been said, if you can push past the autotune and the straight-from-the-80’s “redneck” power chorus singing that ultimately takes control of these records, you’ll be rewarded by the work of two of the finest songwriters working in popular music today.
8. Kingsley Flood – Battles
The holy grail for most bands is to be able to match massive performances with equally massive songwriting chops. On Battles, Kingsley Flood took that idea and injected their already successful formula of bar brawl Americana with a double shot of adrenaline to produce one of the most satisfying records of the year to date. Grounded in singer Naseem Khuri’s explorations of what it takes to get by in today’s America, this mostly Boston based five piece (Khuri resides right here in the District) walks the razor’s edge of serious and seriously entertaining, and they do it all with an ease normally reserved for bands twice their age. Successfully bridging the gulf between folk, power pop and punk, Battles finds its power in its unflinching honesty and sincerity, regardless of the delivery method. This is a new Americana, and one that, if this release is any indication, is very quickly going to take over the world.
Day two of this year's Newport Folk Fesival left behind the weather miseries of the day before. It dawned clear, bright and warm and made the wet and cold endurance test of the previous day feel like another lifetime.
Kicking the day off at the Harbor tent stage, Sarah Jarosz’s soft voice coaxed early visitors and long time devotees alike to hush first and listen second. She alternated between banjo, acoustic guitar and octave mandolin and was accompanied by a cellist and a violinist. Her selections alternated from her own creations, including cuts from the new album, to covers of artists like Tim O’Brien and Joanna Newsome. She ended her set with a fabulous cover of Tom Waits’ “Come Up to the House,” asking everyone to join in.
Shovels & Rope, a husband/wife team, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst from South Carolina, turned the volume up in the middle of the day. Cary Ann wore a wonderful gingham blue dress, but said she hadn’t counted on the wind. “If it blows up, don’t take pictures.” she asked the audience, “It’s not that kind of show!” The couple frequently traded instruments and rapid-fire lyrics to create a raucous sound that got the crowd in the Quad tent to jump up and dance. “Hail Hail” rang out with distortion and bass, a perfect foot-stomper for the crowd.
Perched on a spartan (but gorgeous) stage with nothing but a guitar, a piano and a few microphones, Adams crooned and caroused his way into the hearts of his assembled fans by simply giving them what they want. Yes, this time out for Adams it was a “greatest hits” tour to be sure, a concept that may tend to leave some concertgoers (read: me) with the unpleasant taste of “cashing-in” in their mouths. Luckily though, Adams has proven to be a savvy (and fussy) enough performer to never simply stick to the plan. In fact on this night he even wrote a song about his plan (you can listen to it here), and for the most part it was moments like these that made the evening what it was.